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November 28, 2014: A Nebraska helmet during a Big Ten Conference football game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Nebraska beat Iowa in overtime, 37-34.
Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska’s season begins anew with Battle for NU

(Icon Sportswire)

It’s likely that the majority of Husker Nation didn’t see Nebraska as the team it is today with a 3-0 record and a Top 20 ranking. The first three games have been fun, but it’s time to hit the reset button.

After partying in the locker room following his team’s 35-32 win over then-No. 22 Oregon, Mike Riley spent plenty of time addressing the media about how this victory made him feel. Surely he savored the win last Sunday before telling the press to get the Oregon talk out of their systems on Monday. It’s time to focus on the conference slate, specifically Northwestern.

Riley knows that Nebraska can’t afford to let the emotion of a big win hamper the Huskers’ momentum towards the current goal of a Big Ten West divisional title before it starts. He’s heard of the Wildcats’ tactics to slow down teams that frequently run the ball by replacing a neatly-kept Ryan Field with a jungle.

“We’re going to be playing on a different surface that everybody has talked to me about. They’ve said that it’s the tallest grass you’ve ever seen. We’ve let our field grow out here as best we can, and we’ll practice on the grass and try to get ready for that.”

What I’ve dubbed “The Battle for NU” has been everything a rivalry should be, even if unofficially christened. Nebraska leads the series 3-2 since joining the Big Ten. Last year, Northwestern served the Huskers another one of their frustrating losses in a disjointed, oddly-paced game during which current Green Bay Packers rookie Dean Lowry lived in the Big Red’s backfield.

The Grand Island Independent’s Bob Hamar summed up the Huskers’ attempts at adding points to the scoreboard perfectly. “People like to harp on play calling, but there’s not much a coach can do when the running game isn’t working and the receivers are dropping passes,” he wrote.

The Blackshirts are most definitely ready to take another crack at Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson. In 2015, Thorson ran for 126 yards on only nine carries while throwing for 177 yards despite only completing 46 percent of his passes.

Nebraska appears to be trending upward, and Northwestern certainly looks to be the lesser team on paper, but they can’t be treated like purple and white pussycats.

Many times I’ve referred to Pat Fitzgerald’s bunch as the “Big Ten Upset Special.” While Fitzgerald’s teams may not be the most talented, they usually keep to the school’s scholarly background and play smart.

As a result, Tommy Armstrong needs to build on his sound performance against Oregon and take advantage of a secondary ranked No. 101 in the nation in addition to his duties on the ground.

Guarded optimism has spawned a legitimate question following this past weekend’s win. With an unblemished non-conference record, will the Big Red saunter into Madison, Wis. at 7-0 and very likely well inside the Top 15…or 10 (or dare I say five)?

Yes, the possibility is certainly there. However, Nebraska must focus on the journey to that point and not the destination.

The Huskers need to take it one step at a time, work hard and stay humble. They’ve managed to do all that thus far and it’s treated them well.

Time to dress in fancy new duds from Adidas and pretend Alabama’s wearing purple this week.

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Nebraska’s season begins anew with Battle for NU

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