It’s always football time in Nebraska.
The 10th-ranked Cornhuskers will host the No. 21-ranked (Sports Network poll) University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs on Saturday in the 3:30 p.m. season opener for both teams.
Nebraska, a Football Championship Subdivision power, is big-time football. UTC is still trying to make a name for itself in the “off Broadway” Football Championship Subdivision.
Nebraska won national championships in 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995 and 1997. The Cornhuskers have 43 conference titles, and they’re starting a bid for one in their new league – the Big Ten. Nebraska is beginning its 122nd football season, 18 more than UTC.
The game will be televised by the Big Ten network (Comcast, 742), DirecTV (610), Dish Network (439), AT&T U-Verse (650) and EPB (630).
Since 1970, Nebraska is the nation’s winningest program (403 victories), 24 more than Ohio State. Nebraska has scored in 190 straight games and scored in 277 straight home games.
Nebraska’s 81,091-seat Memorial Stadium, where the Cornhuskers have attracted a remarkable 311 consecutive sellouts, will be expanded to seat more than 90,000 in time for the 2013 season. Nebraska has played in Memorial Stadium since 1923. The sellout streak started in November 1962 and the last non-sellout was in October 1962 when the Cornhuskers and Kansas State drew 30,701.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman has another way to gauge the significance of Saturday’s game.
“I’ve been on the phone all morning, I’ve been on the phone all week,” Huesman said at the Mocs’ media day on Tuesday. “It’s pretty neat. I don’t know how many radio stations they’ve got out there, but they must have about fifty because I’ve been on about fifty already. They take their football serious out there.
“It’s going to be a great environment for us to go play. Another sellout crowd for them will be a pretty unique situation for our guys.”
And, believe it or not, the Nebraska faithful have a pretty good line on the Mocs. One radio host talked to Huesman about Terrell Owens, who has had a brilliant NFL career, playing at UTC. Huesman thought to himself, “Wow, the guy knew Terrell played here.”
The host responded, “Hey, my grandmother probably knows that Terrell Owens played at UTC.”
At some point Saturday, the Mocs will have to forget about their surroundings and focus on the football game. They will recall all the Xs and Os their coaches have harped on for weeks about how to attack the Cornhuskers. Some of it will work. Some will not.
“We know we have to do our job on defense,” defensive back Chris Lewis-Harris said. “The offense is going to play hard like they always do. If we can work it out on defense, we have a chance to compete in this ballgame.”
Mocs quarterback B.J. Coleman played one season with the Tennessee Vols before transferring to UTC for the 2009 season. He’s gone against UCLA, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina on the Southeastern Conference battlefield. Nebraska won’t spook Coleman, who said he’s prepared the same for the Cornhuskers as Southern Conference opponents.
“I think you treat the preparation the same,” he said. “Obviously, having experience playing against Alabama and Auburn and being able to travel to those different atmospheres in the SEC, but going to Nebraska is going to be a little bit different. I think the atmosphere there is going to be the same in terms of intensity and how electric it will be out there.”
The reality of the challenge facing the Mocs, however, is not lost on Coleman, who has started all 22 games he’s played with the Mocs and passed for 5,344 yards and 43 touchdowns in two seasons.
Nebraska ranked first in pass efficiency defense (96.29) and pass defense (153.6 yards) and second in total defense (306.8 yards) in the Big 12 last season. It was seventh in rushing defense (153.1 yards).
“They have a great defensive front,” Coleman said. “Really, a great front seven. They’re linebackers are fast and rangy. Their defensive line penetrates and prevents the run game. We’ve got a challenge there offensively. I think if we can hold up and I can make the decisions to get it out of my hand quickly and get it to our receivers and backs, we might be able to move the football.”
Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick threw a daunting challenge to the Mocs’ offense.
“We can be a lot better than the past two years,” the 6-foot-6-inch, 285-pound Crick said. “Not taking anything away from those defenses, we just have a lot more depth and a lot more experience this year, and I think that’s going to pay dividends.”
Not for a second would Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, considered a defensive guru, think the Mocs would roll over without a whimper to the Cornhuskers, and he’s very mindful of Coleman’s skills.
“I think he’s a heck of a football player,” Pelini said of the 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound Coleman. “He is obviously what makes their team, along with number four (Joel Bradford), the wide receiver. He makes some big throws. He is one of the better guys that I’ve seen with them.”
The key to the Mocs’ offensive success on Saturday could hinge on the play of the linemen in front of Coleman. From tackle to tackle, the Mocs will start two juniors (RT Adam Miller and RG Austin Wilson), two redshirt freshmen (C Patrick Sutton and LT Taylor Dobbs) and a sophomore (LG Kevin Revis). Huesman will also have redshirt freshman Faysal Shafaat at tight end.
Up front on defense will be two redshirt freshmen (T Keyon Reed and RE Davis Tull), a junior (LE Joshua Williams) and a senior (NT Nick Davison). Of the four players listed No. 2 at the four up-front positions on the depth chart, three are redshirt freshmen – LE Zach Rayl, NT Devin Scates and T Josh Freeman.
“Our young guys up front on offense and defense have to grow up really fast,” Huesman said. “We think they’re talented, we think they can play. But they’re not experienced and they’re pretty light.”
Despite the hoopla surrounding the season opener, Huesman isn’t placing his entire focus on the Cornhuskers. He can’t afford to do that.
“We’re preparing for the football season,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s more than eleven games. That’s what our focus has got to be. Our focus can’t be on playing a BCS school or playing Nebraska. It has to be on a football season.”
When the smoke clears from Saturday’s game in Lincoln, Neb., the Mocs will return home and prepare for their home opener against ninth-ranked Jacksonville State. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)