Wyoming-Nebraska Preview

Nebraska has won a nation-leading 27 straight openers, and the

margin has been at least 10 points in 26 of them.

Even if Saturday night’s game against Wyoming turns out the same

way – the No. 18 Cornhuskers are four-touchdown favorites – the

coaching staff expects to have a much better idea how the pieces of

its young defense fit together.

Coach Bo Pelini said Monday the Cowboys’ spread offense offers a

good test. Third-year starting quarterback Brett Smith is one of

the nation’s top returning passers. He averaged 308 yards in total

offense and threw 27 touchdown passes against six

interceptions.

Two years ago, in the fourth game of his freshman season, Smith

threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-14 loss to a

ninth-ranked Nebraska in Laramie, Wyo.

”He’s very poised,” Pelini said. ”I don’t know what he runs,

but he’s very elusive in the pocket and he buys time. He’s a really

good player. I thought that going into that game, and I remember

coming out I was very impressed with him. He’s a lot further along

now as a player.”

The Huskers should have one of the best secondaries in the Big

Ten. Their biggest question marks are on the line and at

linebacker.

Defensive end Jason Ankrah is the most experienced player among

the front seven, and coaches have offered glowing reviews of

junior-college transfer Randy Gregory on the opposite side.

Thad Randle, who has battled injuries throughout his career, is

locked in at one tackle spot. Freshmen Maliek Collins and Kevin

Maurice are among the contenders for playing time next to Randle,

along with Aaron Curry, Vincent Valentine and Brodrick Nickens.

David Santos and freshman Josh Banderas had strong preseason

practices at middle linebacker, and Zaire Anderson returns on the

weakside after missing most of last season because of injury. The

staff also is excited about freshman Nathan Gerry, who is working

with the linebackers after being recruited as a safety.

”I like our linebacker group,” Pelini said. ”They’ve gotten

better. I was a little concerned about 10 days or two weeks in. The

last 10 days or so I saw some guys make a big jump.”

Who starts won’t mean much this week. The plan is to move

players in and out.

”It’s going to take some discipline on our part as much as

anything else,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said,

”because if things are going well, sometimes you have a tendency

to lean toward the guys who are in the game. The bottom line,

you’ve got to find out more about our guys in game

situations.”

Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said he’s not sure there’s an

advantage to playing the Huskers before they’ve got their defensive

personnel settled.

”I don’t know catching them at any time is a good time. I guess

the opener is as good as any,” he said.

Smith had a higher passer rating on the road last season, but

he’ll be playing in an extremely difficult environment Saturday. A

crowd of about 92,000, the largest in Nebraska history, is expected

with the opening of a new addition on the stadium’s east side.

”There’s going to be crowd noise that’s going to be a factor,”

Christensen said. ”We prepare for that every day. We have more

sound and music and crowd noise and stuff going on at our practice

on a daily basis than most stadiums we visit. I think our players

will be prepared for that.”

The Huskers’ first three opponents – Wyoming, Southern

Mississippi and UCLA – use the spread offense. Papuchis said it

helps that his charges go against an up-tempo spread in

practice.

”I feel like one of the things that hopefully is going to make

us game-ready is the fact we play against Taylor Martinez and Kenny

Bell and Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner and Jordan Westerkamp and

Alonzo Moore every day,” Papuchis said. ”I don’t know how Wyoming

exactly stacks up against those guys, but I know we get great reps

every single day.”

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