September 24, 2009

Thursday notebook: Husker mural unveiled

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne presented the unveiling of a new 22x28-foot Husker-themed mural in of the main lobby of the Tom and Nancy Osborne Athletic Complex on Thursday.


The mural, designed by artist Mike Sullivan and claimed to be the largest ceramic tile mural ever made in North America, was created to embody the history and legacy of Nebraska football and help commemorate the football program's 300th consecutive sellout Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette.


While talking about the mural, Osborne took some time to acknowledge the significance of holding the longest running sellout streak in the history of college football.


"I think we've got to give a real tribute to our fans," Osborne said, "because even with a certain degree of excellence on the field, it's still almost unthinkable that people come through all kinds of weather, through ups and downs, and be here every week. We've had an amazing devotion on the part of our fans, and there's no question that whatever success we've had here has been in large part due to their faithfulness, their loyalty and their devotion to the football program."


While the mural and its 616 12x12-inch mosaic tiles is undoubtedly impressive, Osborne also shed some light on some future additions the athletic complex will be seeing in the coming months.


Particularly, Osborne announced plans for making the main lobby of the complex - previously known primarily for its giant red waterfall - become the site of the football program's Hall of Fame, as all of the major awards, trophies and important memorabilia will be interspersed throughout the complex.


Osborne said the plans for a Hall of Fame were originally put on hold when the athletic complex went well over it's initial $50 million budget. As a result, nearly $2 million worth of memorabilia was not included in the original complex.


Over the past four months, Osborne said the department has been working on ways to appropriately display the memorabilia that represents NU football's tradition. At first, it wanted to construct an entirely new building, but the nearly $6 million price tag ended those plans.


Instead, the department decided to simply make the original complex a functional working museum of sorts. The biggest change will be the re-done Heisman Trophy room, which was originally located in the West end of Memorial Stadium. It has now been relocated just down the hall from the main lobby, and while it won't officially be unveiled until Saturday, Osborne said it "will be fairly spectacular."


In addition, Osborne said the athletic department also plans to put $500,000 toward building similar Hall of Fame's in the NU Coliseum (volleyball), Bob Devaney Sports Center (basketball, track and field) and Haymarket Park (baseball, softball).


With so much change coming to Memorial Stadium and the rest of Nebraska's athletic facilities, Osborne was asked to look back when he was head coach during the Huskers' 200th sellout (1994, against Colorado) and whether he would have ever expected to still be such a big part of NU athletics when the 300th rolled around.


"No, I didn't think so," Osborne said. "I felt that when I left here in '97 that that would be the end of my association with athletics. I just didn't see that happening again. So I feel very fortunate to be a part of this celebration."


In regards to the festivities planned for Saturday's landmark game, Osborne was then asked if he had any plans to break out any old outfits from his days as an assistant under legendary head coach Bob Devaney when the sellout streak began in 1962.


"Most of my old stuff is gone now," he said. "But I'm old, and I'll be here. So I'm kind of retro."












Thursday practice takes
Cajuns' keeping QB clean: Of all the stats that really stand out about Louisiana-Lafayette this season, the fact that the Ragin' Cajuns have yet to allow a single quarterback sack through three games is easily the most impressive. In fact, they're the only team in college football that can say that. Nebraska will have to make it a point to get some pressure on ULL quarterback Chris Masson and throw off the timing of the passing game. The Cajuns have had trouble running the ball this year, so if the Huskers can get Masson off his game with some pressure and disrupt the passing game, the defense could have a field day on Saturday.
A weak link found? For anyone looking for a weak point that Nebraska's offense could potentially take advantage of in Louisiana-Lafayette's defense, look no further than the secondary. As it turns out, the Ragin' Cajuns currently have four safeties down with injuries, including two that will definitely be out Saturday and the other two expected to see limited action. This could be something the Huskers really can exploit, especially with play-action passes deep over the middle. Louisiana-Lafayette will definitely be looking to stop Nebraska's running game first and foremost, and will likely bring its defensive backs up in run support. Pair that with injured/inexperienced safeties, and NU quarterback Zac Lee should have no trouble putting up some big numbers.
Injury update: The biggest injury news of the day was that junior left tackle Mike Smith was back at practice after missing Wednesday with a boot on his foot. Head coach Bo Pelini said Smith would start on Saturday as usual. Other than that, Pelini said the Huskers have been about as lucky as possible thus far on the injury front. "We're pretty healthy," Pelini said. "For this point in the year - I wish I had some wood to knock on - we're doing OK."
What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team conducted a two hour practice in helmets and shorts inside Memorial Stadium on Thursday. The Huskers will have a short walk-thru practice on Friday before Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff.



Huskers have "best day yet"


The overall attitude of the entire Nebraska football team couldn't have been much better as it walked off the Memorial Stadium field on Thursday.


Considering head coach Bo Pelini's comments following practice, it's no wonder why the Huskers' spirits were so high.


According to Pelini, Nebraska had arguably its best week of practice this past week despite coming off a heartbreaking 16-15 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. Not only has the morale been as good as ever, the Huskers have also executed as close to Pelini's high standards as they have all year.


"We've had a good week of practice," Pelini said. "The kids have really practiced hard with good tempo. I like the way we've practiced. It's been a good week. Good energy. It's been a good week. Now, it hasn't been perfect, but today was our best day yet.


"I like the way this football team has responded, and we're ready to play."


Pelini was asked if he and the rest of the coaching staff had taken a different approach to the past week of practice to help lift the team's spirits following the loss. Pelini said he hasn't changed a thing, and that the week has only been a continuation of increasingly better practices the past month.


"We've been practicing decent," Pelini said. "We've been coming along. Our job now is to play the best football yet, because we haven't played to our capability yet, and Saturday's our next opportunity."


Quick hits


***Pelini said junior left tackle Mike Smith - who sat out of Wednesday's practice with a boot on his foot - practiced on Thursday and is expected to start as usual on Saturday against Virginia Tech.


"Mike Smith did good," Pelini said. "He practiced well today. Mike's good. Mike felt good today."


***Pelini said he's expecting roughly 8-10 official visitors for Saturday's game. He also expressed some relative excitement about the group.


"We have a nice group coming in," he said.


***While the 300th consecutive sellout will be one of the highlights of the season for the athletic department and fans alike, Pelini said he's only focused on making sure the day's festivities end with a solid performance and a victory.


"That's for the fans and everybody else," Pelini said. "Our job is to play our football and let them celebrate that thing by us playing Nebraska-type football. That's with passion, that's with great effort, that's with executing to our standard."


***Lastly, Pelini said junior quarterback Zac Lee has responded to Saturday's loss as well as anyone the past week. Despite a sub-par passing performance and suffering a thumb injury in the loss, Pelini said Lee has had a good week of practice and is ready to get the Huskers back on the winning track.


"Zac had a nice week," Pelini said. "He's doing well. Zac's going to play his butt off, I know that. I have no question about that… Zac has confidence, and we have confidence in him. He's our guy. He's played well. He had some things, (but) he'll be fine, there's no question in my mind."






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