The Nebraska football team continued its week of preparation for Saturday’s Big Ten Conference Championship showdown against the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday. The team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets for just less than two hours inside the Hawks Championship Center.
Defensive Coordinator John Papuchis addressed the media after practice, focusing on Wisconsin’s powerful run game that the Blackshirts held to a meager 56 yards in the Husker victory over the Badgers on September 29.
“Sometimes rushing statistics are a little out of whack because of sacks and tackles for loss, but I thought we did a pretty good job against the run last time,” Papuchis said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do in the running game. Obviously, it starts with Montee Ball and we know what he’s all about, but he’s not the only good back on their team. We’ve got to be prepared to stop the run on Saturday.”
Ball is coming off a 111-yard performance against Penn State in which he set the record for the most career touchdowns in NCAA history at 79 with his 17-yard score in the first quarter. The Badger running back had 93 yards and three touchdowns in the September loss to Nebraska. However, with so much attention on the running game, Papuchis also mentioned the threat of the play-action pass.
“It’s the running game that sets up the play-action pass,” Papuchis said. “You get guys cheating down and committing against the run. Not only that, but Abbrederis does a great job with his double moves and making his run and pass releases look very similar.”
Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis had 142 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Huskers in their previous meeting, and he’ll definitely get a lot of attention from the Blackshirts on Saturday. However, Nebraska will be seeing a new quarterback on Saturday, as fifth-year senior Curt Phillips will be making his fourth start in place of injured starter Joel Stave. On Tuesday, Papuchis commented on what Phillips brings to the Badger offense.
“I think he fits well into their system and what they try to get done,” Papuchis said. “As a fifth year senior, he’s been around for a while, so I think he understands their scheme and what they are trying to accomplish. I think he’s a good athlete. A couple times he has gotten out in designed quarterback runs as well as with scrambles. He has a good arm and he’s a good player. I don’t know all of his history, but in the last four or five games he’s played well.”
Papuchis also made note of how the loss of senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler will be handled in preparation for Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game against a very physical Wisconsin offensive line.
“Obviously, not having Baker is disappointing for him and for us, but we feel very good about the guys we have on our team up front,” Papuchis said. “It’s not necessarily going to be one guy who steps in and solely fills the role for Baker. I think it’s going to be more of a group effort and that’s why we practice the way we practice. All of our guys get a lot of reps, and when their opportunities come they need to be ready. For some guys those opportunities are going to show up more on Saturday.”