No. 11 Huskers look to overcome Top 25 road demons
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska heads into its most important game to date facing two obstacles.
The first is 22nd-ranked Wisconsin, which is in a three-way tie with the Cornhuskers and Minnesota atop the Big Ten West.
The second is a maddening history of struggling on the road against ranked opponents under coach Bo Pelini.
The No. 11 Cornhuskers (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) have lost four of their last five on the road against Top 25 teams. Since Pelini took over in 2008, the Huskers are 3-8 in those games.
”It’s hard to win on the road against good football teams and tough environments,” Pelini said Monday. ”I know that those last five games won’t have anything to do with what happens Saturday. The team that executes the best is going to win.”
In its only Top 25 road game this season, Nebraska was down 24 points in the fourth quarter to Michigan State before closing to within 27-22. Each of the Huskers’ previous three Top 25 road losses was by at least 25 points. The one win in that five-game stretch was 17-14 at Penn State in 2011.
Overall Nebraska is 21-10 on the road under Pelini, a .677 winning percentage that’s 11th-best in the Bowl Subdivision, according to STATS.
Safety Corey Cooper said he can’t figure out why the Huskers have wilted in the biggest road games.
”It comes down to us showing up ready to play,” he said. ”It doesn’t matter if we’re home or away. It’s just a decision we have to make, to come out there and execute and be the more physical team.”
Cooper was encouraged by the fourth-quarter comeback bid at Michigan State last month.
”We got down and we didn’t give up. We kept fighting,” he said. ”I can’t explain why we start slow sometimes. We can’t afford that this weekend.”
The Huskers end the regular season with three games against opponents that are closest to them in the standings. After Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), the Huskers host Minnesota and go to Iowa. The Hawkeyes are alone in fourth in the West, one game behind the leaders.
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, Wisconsin has come to symbolize the Huskers’ road woes.
The Badgers won the Huskers’ inaugural Big Ten game 48-17 in Madison in a meeting of top-10 teams in 2011. The Huskers won 30-27 in Lincoln in 2012 but two months later lost 70-31 to an unranked Badgers team at the neutral-site conference championship game. Saturday marks the first meeting since that night in Indianapolis.
”You have that in the back of your mind,” said offensive lineman Jake Cotton, who was a backup in 2012. ”This is a different team, they’re a different team. We’re going to play the 2014 Wisconsin Badgers and try to get a win up there.”
Considering the upsets that happen every week in college football, Pelini said, it would be foolish to put more weight on one game than another.
”Every game is the same magnitude as far as I’m concerned,” he said. ”I don’t buy into `this is a big game, this isn’t a big game.’ There are no games that are bigger than the next. This happens to be the next one against a tough opponent, in their stadium, but our approach won’t be any different.”
Cooper sees things differently.
”This game is huge,” he said. ”To get to where we want to go, we can’t afford any losses pretty much. It’s pretty much the biggest game of the season.”