Head coach Jim Mora said he couldn’t even imagine a more difficult situation.
No. 16 UCLA is hoping to channel their grief into play worthy of honoring their late teammate, Nick Pasquale, but the challenges they face are numerous.
Lincoln Memorial Stadium is a special place. Even if you’ve never attended a game there, anyone that’s visited and seen the infamous Heisman Room can attest to the aura surrounding the Cornhuskers’ program. The grieving Bruins are going to walk into hostile 80,000-loud crowd and be forced to push aside their emotions.
But even the ‘Huskers are feeling for the Bruins right now.
“Nebraska is a classy, classy institution as everybody knows and they’re going to have a moment of silence for Nick,” said Mora.
“That’s a lot bigger than any football game,” said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. “I speak for everybody associated with the University of Nebraska in offering our condolences to Nick Pasquale and his family (as well as) UCLA and everyone associated with their program dealing with the tragedy that they are dealing with.”
Once the moment passes, UCLA will encounter another obstacle in Nebraska.
In the season opener against Nevada, the Bruins faced a quarterback that is equally as mobile as Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez. In last season’s meeting, Martinez, set a new Big Ten record when he broke off for a 92-yard rushing touchdown – the longest in conference history.
“He never gave up. He was never down. He never conceded a down, and that makes it really difficult to defend a guy,” Mora said.
In the season opener, Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo amassed a team-high 106 rushing yards. Quarterback containment is at the top of the priority list for UCLA.
Not to mention, Martinez, a local product that prepped at Corona Centennial, had a chip on his shoulder already after being spurned by the program he grew up a fan of. Last season’s upset thrust that program into the college football spotlight, effectively dimming the light on Nebraska.
“He’s a tenacious competitor,” Mora said. “That’s what I respect so much about him is his competitive drive.”
Saturday morning’s game might be one of the most emotional any member of the team has ever played. Mora doesn’t want them to forget about those emotions, he wants each person to embrace them while still remembering to play for Pasquale.
It’s a fine line that UCLA must walk.
“Everybody on that team, everybody in that locker room had a different relationship with Nick. So whatever they were feeling was OK,” Mora said. “For those that wanted to cry, that was ok. Those that wanted to tell a funny story and laugh that was OK. There’s going to be kids in there that maybe don’t feel a lot and that’s OK.”