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November 18, 2013

Husker Buzz: What's left to play for?

Over the next two weeks we are going to find out a lot about this football team. For the first time since 2011 Nebraska finds themselves in a position where they aren't playing to earn a spot in the conference title game.

NU's November games against Penn State and Iowa essentially mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, other than pride, bowl placement and keeping head coach Bo Pelini's 9 win streak intact for a sixth year in a row.

How will Pelini's young defense and banged up offense respond to this? That's what we don't know right now as the Huskers get ready to make a near 1,100 mile trek out to State College this weekend to take on Penn State.

"Obviously we are disappointed we are out of the championship race," Pelini said on Monday. "That's our standard and that will always be our standard. That doesn't diminish our approach and the next thing on the docket is Penn State and that's what we are going to get ready for."

Junior running back Ameer Abdullah said this team has plenty to play for on Saturday. Abdullah, who leads the Big Ten with 1,336 rushing yards, has no doubt in this mind this team will bounce back on Saturday.

"It's very important," Abdullah said when asked the importance of getting to 9 wins. "A lot of teams don't do that and we could finish off with a great season. We are trying to finish out in the best situation we possibly can. Right now it's still out there for us.

"I feel like as a team we are a pretty prideful bunch. We want to win and we want to get that taste of a loss out of our mouth as bad as the next man. We are going to do everything we can do this week to assure we do that."

When senior offensive lineman Brent Qvale looks more at Saturday's 41-28 loss to Michigan State, he feels like the Huskers were pretty close in that game, but the five turnovers dug them in a whole they could not get out of.

Going forward this week Qvale also feels like this team will bounce back strong at Penn State.

"We've bounced back before," Qvale said. "I think the same is going to hold out for this game. I think it's up to us as seniors to be able to motivate these guys now that we are playing for pride now. We've got to win these next two games and we've got to win our bowl game to get a 10 win season. That's our new goal and that's my new goal.

"I think it's up to the seniors to really be able to push everybody along and make sure we finish the season out right and set the program up for a good year next year too."


Bowl game talk

With just two games left to play, Nebraska's bowl destination looks like it could either be Tampa for the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 or Tempe for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28.

If NU wins their final two games Tampa looks like where they'll end up, especially if Wisconsin finishes 10-2 and earns a BCS at-large bid. If that happens everybody slots up one, which would put Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Rose, BCS at-large and Capital One Bowls.

Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota would then be in line for the Outback, Buffalo Wild Wings and Gator Bowl invites.

From a Husker fan standpoint, the trip to Tempe would be the biggest draw since NU hasn't played there since the 1999 season. The Arizona, Nevada and California Husker Booster Clubs would come out in full force to that game and most likely sellout the stadium. The game is also on a Saturday night, which is also another bonus for fans traveling.

A trip to Tampa would be more prestigious, but the expensive airfare to Florida would probably keep a lot of Husker fans at home, as we've learned the last two years at the Capital One Bowl. Typical round trip airfare to Tampa and Orlando from Omaha that week runs $600 to $800 per ticket.

PSU will be ready for the toss sweep

Last season when Penn State came to Lincoln it was almost comical how many times the Huskers ran the toss sweep play at the Nittany Lions.

In all NU ran the play 26 times, as Nebraska rushed for 267 yards on 57 carries, including 116 yards from Abdullah and 104 yards from quarterback Taylor Martinez in the Huskers 32-23 win.

My guess is Bill O'Brien and his staff will have a much better plan for the toss sweep this time around.

"I'm sure they're going to scheme for it," Abdullah said of the toss play. "I'm sure they aren't going to leave everything the same. Just the front (Penn State) was using was very vulnerable to the toss play at the time, and if it isn't broke, don't fix it. That's one thing I like to live by. The toss play was working so we kept running it."

Three and out

***During ESPN's College Game Day former Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard said Abdullah wouldn't run for 40 yards against Michigan State's defense. Abdullah ran 123 yards on 22 carries, becoming the first back since both he and Martinez ran for over 100 yards on the Spartans a year ago.

"Of course (I saw it)," Abdullah said of Howard's remarks. "It's his job to make predictions and it's my job to shut him up. I feel like we did a good job of that, but obviously it wasn't enough to get the win on Saturday."

***As we get ready to make our trip out to State College this week, I want to give a special shout out to Omaha native Amanda Lehotak, who is in her first season as Penn State's head softball coach. Lehotak has already been a head coach at both Jacksonville and Texas-San Antonio the last seven years, and grew up in one of the bigger softball families in Nebraska. Her father Ed was the longtime coach and Athletic Director of Bellevue University. Lehotak was a classmate of mine at Omaha Gross and some day it wouldn't surprise me to see her on the short list to replace Rhonda Revelle when she decides to retire.

***Finally, if you are traveling to Penn State this week, make sure to bring your jacket and gloves. Right now there's a 60 percent chance of a rain/snow mix with the high temperature being just 44 and the low 24 degrees on game day. That sure will make for a fun trip if you are traveling in from Harrisburg or Pittsburgh to get to State College on Saturday.

Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.


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