Pelini: No letdown allowed vs South Dakota State
A game against South Dakota State is all that breaks up the 18 days between Nebraska's big road win at Washington and the Big 12 opener at Kansas State.
One of coach Bo Pelini's jobs will be to keep his sixth-ranked Cornhuskers from losing their mojo when they line up Saturday against the winless Jackrabbits.
Pelini said he's challenging his players in practice this week to counter a natural urge to let down against an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision.
''We ask our guys to overcome human nature,'' Pelini said Tuesday.
Undoubtedly, he will remind his players about the big upsets involving teams in the former Division I-AA this month: James Madison over Virginia Tech, North Dakota State over Kansas, Jacksonville State over Mississippi, South Dakota over Minnesota.
''You look across the board, I-AA football is pretty good,'' Pelini said. ''They come to play a I-A opponent, and those kids are out to prove that they belong in a I-A program. You have to have respect for the game of football and be at your best every time you walk out there or it will creep up and bite you.''
SDSU linebacker Derek Domino said the underdog mentality served the Jackrabbits well last year when they put a scare into Minnesota before losing 16-13. A good number of SDSU players are from Minnesota, and Domino said it was an opportunity for them to make a statement against their home-state Gophers.
''We went into Minnesota saying, `These guys took our scholarship to play at a big-time school,''' Domino said. ''It lets you see where you are as compared with the best in the country.''
Nebraska turned in one of its best performances in Pelini's three years as coach in last week's 56-21 win at Washington. The Huskers had three players rush for more than 100 yards and had six plays from scrimmage go 20 yards or longer.
The Huskers are among the top 10 nationally in rushing (344 ypg), scoring (47.7 ppg) and total offense (513 ypg), and the defense is allowing just under 275 yards a game along with eight interceptions.
Safety Rickey Thenarse said he and his teammates can't allow themselves to rest easy against the Jackrabbits.
''We're doing what we normally do,'' he said. ''We're going to work hard, study these guys just as much as we studied Washington and be very aggressive and try to dominate this team.''
Receiver Brandon Kinnie said he doesn't pay attention to the level of an opponent.
''I like to play football regardless of who we play,'' he said.
SDSU quarterback Thomas O'Brien said he feels the same way.
''It doesn't matter if we're playing the Dallas Cowboys,'' he said. ''We're going to get ready and try to win a ball game.''
If Pelini had his way, he wouldn't play FCS opponents. The game against South Dakota State was scheduled three years ago by previous athletic administrations at both schools.
''If I were given the opportunity, I would pick the higher-division team,'' Pelini said. ''I believe we owe it to the fans and really to your football team to challenge them every week. I don't want to say that in the wrong way and act like this isn't a challenge - every week is a challenge - but it's just my philosophy.''
Jeff Jamrog, assistant athletic director for football operations, said Nebraska tries to avoid scheduling FCS opponents. But he said he's under orders to line up at least seven home games a year, and with fewer FBS schools scheduling games for large financial guarantees, it's possible FCS opponents will occasionally pop up on Nebraska schedules.
''In a perfect world, we would only play FBS teams,'' Jamrog said. ''It isn't a perfect world.''
South Dakota State will receive $375,000 for playing in Lincoln. Jackrabbits coach John Stiegelmeier said he has to schedule at least one FBS opponent every year to make his budget.
''It's my preference to play a team our fans have heard about, for more of a local flavor,'' Stiegelmeier said. ''Do we want to play a Top 10 team? That wasn't part of the criteria. But that happens. We're not going to cower down about it. We're going to do our best.''