The road hasn’t been particularly kind to the Nebraska football team the past couple of years.
But that’s where the Huskers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) are again Saturday when they face Northwestern (6-1, 2-1) in a 2:30 p.m. game in Evanston, Ill.
The Huskers went 3-2 on the road last year with wins at Wyoming, Minnesota and Penn State. The Penn State win was the best one of the three, but it was against a program stung by the Jerry Sandusky scandal that broke the week of the game.
The two losses were ugly ones — 48-17 at Wisconsin and 45-17 at Michigan. The Huskers were competitive in both games for a while only to see the bottom fall out.
This year there was the 36-30 loss at UCLA where Nebraska gave up 653 yards of offense, the second most in school history. That was followed by the 63-38 loss at Ohio State two weeks ago.
So that’s the challenge facing the Husker coaching staff. How do you avoid getting hit in the mouth on the road like that again?
“That’s a good question,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “That’s athletics. That’s competition. That’s sports. We’re not alone, I promise you that. You watch across athletics. That is the greatest challenge you have as a football coach. It’s how you get 140 guys every week going in the exact same direction, preparing a certain way, believing everything you say, having total respect for the game and your job and everything that goes into it to prepare yourself for that particular week.”
If you go back in the Pelini era, you see that the Huskers have had some good road wins. In 2010, they rolled by Kansas State 48-13 in Taylor Martinez’s coming out party, won 55-21 at Washington and beat No. 17 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., 51-41.
The Huskers went 4-1 that year on the road that year with the lone loss being a 9-6 setback at Texas A&M.
In 2009, Nebraska was 4-1 on the road as well with wins at Missouri, Baylor, Kansas and Colorado with a narrow 16-15 loss at No. 13 Virginia Tech.
To be fair, it’s hard to compare 2009 wins at Missouri, Baylor and Kansas to losses the past two years at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, arguably the top three programs in the Big Ten Conference over the last couple of decades or so.
Pelini said it all comes back to doing the things you’re supposed to do on the field.
“I think a lot of it comes down to execution no matter what your emotions are, no matter what your motivations are,” Pelini said. “It comes back down to your preparation and executing. Sometimes in life you have to get hit in the mouth to pick up your resolve and get back to the realization that it’s not just going to happen to me for whatever reason.”
In other words, you can’t just show up on Saturday and win football games. It’s the preparation that makes the difference.
“You get what you earn in this world,” Pelini said. “It just doesn’t happen on Saturday, it just doesn’t happen for those 60 minutes. It’s all the things that go up to allowing you to have all the success. It’s why I have the philosophy of just staying focused on the process and the day-to-day of what’s going to allow you to do that. I understand.”
So it all boils down to preparation and execution, and both those factors are stressed by the coaching staff, then why are these spread offensive teams blowing the doors off the Huskers?
Pelini says when you mess up your assignment against a pro-style offense, it’s easier to make up for it.
“When that happens in a quarterback offense where you’re spread out, those mistakes become magnified big time,” Pelini said. “That’s probably the best way to explain it. You’re going to get magnified a lot more against an offense where the quarterback is going to make plays with his feet. It holds another level of responsibility. Some guys have dual responsibility. When you miss, it’s going to get magnified a lot more.”
The Husker players know what they’re up against and what they need to do against the Wildcats.
“We need to focus on Northwestern,” I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “We’ve got a really tough game and we’re going on the road again. We haven’t won on the road this year yet. We really need to focus on this weekend and just take care of ourselves so we can beat Northwestern.”