Apparently, not everyone got the memo.
“I don’t use that at all,” coach Bo Pelini said during his weekly news conference on Monday.
“That” was a reference to Nebraska’s 36-30 loss at UCLA last season, a game in which the Huskers allowed 653 yards of offense.
That’s right, 653.
Only once has Nebraska allowed more yards. Oklahoma gained 656 in 1956.
Interestingly enough, however, despite the yardage, the Huskers were still in a position to win the UCLA game. Midway through the third quarter, the score was tied at 27.
No disrespect to the Bruins, but yardage or not, “it was a loss out there that we feel like we shouldn’t have lost,” said senior defensive end Jason Ankrah.
So anyway, Pelini was asked if what happened in Pasadena a year ago was motivation for his team going into Saturday’s nationally televised game against UCLA.
He might not be using it as motivation, but the Huskers are, at least some of them.
“It’s one of the losses we took into our offseason program to provide motivation in our work habits,” Ankrah said.
There’s that word, motivation.
“Definitely,” said junior safety Corey Cooper. “We owe these guys one.”
Cooper played in dime packages a year ago.
“We definitely remember this one as a team, so hopefully we come out with a sense of urgency this week,” senior nickel back Ciante Evans said.
This is fan talk now, but UCLA, which is ranked No. 16 or No. 17 depending on the poll, represents the Huskers’ most significant non-conference challenge and probably through at least the first two Big Ten games against Illinois and Purdue, their first on the road.
Despite victories against Wyoming and Southern Miss, Nebraska has dropped each week and is now No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Saturday’s game provides an opportunity to climb back up, though “we’re not worried about our rankings,” said Evans, a co-captain. “We’re here together as a team.
“I don’t care about rankings. I just want to go out there and do what I can for my team on Saturday.”
The teams are different, of course. That was then. This is now. But a key figure in last year’s game for UCLA, quarterback Brett Hundley, is back, a year more mature.
Hundley, a sophomore, completed 21-of-33 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns. In the Bruins’ 58-20 opening-game victory against Nevada two weeks ago – they’ve had a week off to prepare for Nebraska – he completed 22-of-33 for 274 yards and two touchdowns. UCLA gained 647 yards and averaged 7.9 yards per play against the Wolfpack.
Such numbers were of particular concern following Nebraska’s opener against Wyoming. The Cowboys gained 602 yards, including 383 passing. That defensive performance was tempered by the Huskers’ play against Southern Miss in game two.
Among other things, Nebraska intercepted four passes, including two by Evans, the first of which he returned for a touchdown. Stanley Jean-Baptiste also had an interception return for a touchdown.
Despite the improvement, “there were still some mistakes we need to get cleaned up that maybe didn’t hurt us in the game the other day that will hurt you down the line,” Pelini said. “I thought overall it was a lot cleaner. There were some things we did better and there were still a number of areas where we need to improve. It was a move in the right direction for us.
“But by no means are we ready to take on the (Dallas) Cowboys.”
For those interested in numbers, the Huskers have won their last four games against ranked opponents at Memorial Stadium, the last loss coming in Pelini’s first season, 2008, 52-17 to No. 4 Missouri.
Though Pelini might not be using what happened last season in Pasadena as motivation, on the record anyway, his players are.
“We obviously want to win every game. Winning is the most important thing,” Cooper said. “But as a defensive player, you take pride in what the opponent’s offense does against you. So everything matters to us. We’re not trying to go out there and give up a ton of yards.”
Said Evans: “I think it’s a big game, and especially for the program and the players. I don’t believe in payback, but we’ve had it on our minds since the loss.
“So we know what to expect.”