Monday, November 25, 2013

Heroes Preview Monday: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini meets with Media ahead of Iowa game

Lincoln, NE -- The Nebraska Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten Conference in 2011. The move to the Big Ten sparked a renewal of an off again, on again football series between two from bordering states.

2013_Nebraska_insertNebraska (8-3) and Iowa (7-4) will play in "The Hy-Vee Heroes Game" Friday, with the winner claiming the Heroes Trophy. This will be Game III in the new annual Big Ten series.

The trophy game between the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers is the latest trophy game for the Hawkeyes, who also play trophy games with Iowa State (Cy-Hawk Trophy), Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale) and Wisconsin (Heartland Trophy). Nebraska has had possession of the trophy since its inception in 2011. The Huskers beat Iowa 20-7 in 2011, and 13-7 in 2012.

Bo Pelini Bio
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini
is 2-0 vs. Iowa in the
Heroes Game.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini meet with the media on Monday ahead of this week's game with Iowa.  Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will meet with the media on Tuesday, as he normally does each week ahead of the Hawkeyes scheduled game.
Iowa is coming off a 24-21 win over Michigan on Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, where 16 seniors were playing their final game at home. The Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers will close out the regular season in Lincoln on Friday, with an 11 a.m. start, with a nationally televised game on ABC. 

As Nebraska prepares for Iowa coming to Lincoln on Friday, Pelini said, "we're preparing for the last week and the regular season game."

"This will be the last game and we’ll honor 23 seniors plus three guys that have gone on or are going on medical in (Donovan) Vestal, (Tyler) Wullenwaber and (Walker) Ashburn, Pelini said at his weekly media conference. 

"So that will be 26 guys that have given a lot to the program. Hopefully we can honor them by beating a very good Iowa football team. (They are) a team that we have a lot of respect for. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff. They do a really good job. They are a sound group. They play hard. (They are a) well-coached football team,” Pelini said.

Friday’s contest will mark the 24th straight season the Cornhuskers have played on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Dating back to Nebraska's days in the Big 8, then Big 12, the Cornhuskers have served as one of the opening acts in the 11 a.m. game on ABC. 

First, it was Oklahoma in the old Big 8. Then, Colorado, when the Big 12 was formed. For the third straight season, since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, Iowa, and the Heroes Game has served as the opening act on Black Friday. 

The Cornhuskers have won the last five meetings vs. the Hawkeyes. Nebraska holds a 15-2-1 advantage in games played in Lincoln. The 2011 game in Memorial Stadium was first meeting as conference foes. Iowa hasn't won in Lincoln since topping Nebraska, 33-13, in 1943.

Kirk Ferentz gave credit to Nebraska's defense for taking away his playmaker, Marvin McNutt.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz
in the first Heroes Game
in Lincoln in 2011.

The 1999 contest in Kinnick Stadium marked Coach Ferentz's first game as Iowa's head coach. Iowa's most recent win in the series was a 10-7 victory at Iowa City in 1981. That game marked the first game in which Ferentz served as an Iowa assistant, being named Iowa's offensive line coach prior to the season. The first 10 games in the series were played in either Omaha (eight games) or Council Bluffs (two games). The series was even at 4-4-2 in those 10 meetings.

Friday's game is a Legends Division match up. Iowa is 4-3 and in fourth place, Nebraska is 5-2 and in second place. A Hawkeye win would clinch second place in the division. Iowa is 3-1 vs. the Legends Division, Nebraska is 2-2. 

Nebraska holds a 28-12-3 advantage in the series that began with a 22-0 Iowa victory in 1891.

Coach Pelini is in his sixth season as Nebraska's head coach. Along with serving as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa in 1991, Pelini helped Ohio State post a 2-1-1 record against Iowa during his playing career (1987-90). He is now 2-0 as a head coach vs. Iowa.

Nebraska won the Legends Division in 2012.  But, the Cornhuskers had to replace 32 departed lettermen from a team that finished 10-4, 7-1 in the Legends in 2012. Pelini has won nine or more games in each of his five seasons completed as head coach.  The Cornhuskers are on the brink of making it six straight.

Pelini served one season as defensive coordinator for Nebraska in 2003.  He served under head coach Frank Solich, who coached six seasons, after Dr. Tom Osborne. Prior to the 2002 season, Nebraska had gone 33 seasons with nine or more wins each year.

Despite Nebraska finishing 10-3 in 2003, Frank Solich was terminated as head coach. Solich's 2002 team ended the streak, when they finished 7-6. Solich was fired before the bowl game, so Pelini was asked to serve as the interim coach. He lead the Cornhuskers to a win in the Alamo Bowl over Michigan State.

After three seasons under outsider Bill Callahan, the Cornhuskers dismissed the NFL veteran asking Pelini to come back in 2008 as head coach.  Pelini was defensive coordinator for LSU during their 2007 BCS title season.

Nebraska rebounded from a 5-7 season in Callahan's final season in 2007, to a 9-4 season under Pelini in his first season, including a 26-21 win over Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

Bowl projections this week speculate the loser of Friday's game could end up in the Gator Bowl this bowl season? Depending on how many Big Ten teams reach the BCS bowls, the winner, who would be considered the fourth top Big Ten team in 2013, could find themselves in the Outback Bowl. Other projections suggest the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe.

Despite being on track to for another nine win season, Pelini has been on the "hot seat" those in the media and elements in the Cornhusker fan base.

Pelini responded to the rumor that he has resigned during his Monday meeting with the media, with the following comments. 

“A couple of the older guys came to me and talked to me about it. I wasn't even aware of it at the time. I said, ‘Yeah absolutely I’ll address it.’ That was the most craziest thing I've ever seen. It’s not even worth talking about that somebody would go down that road. A grown man who would go down that road and the way it came out. The way I saw it come out. He ought to be ashamed of himself. That’s just too bad in this day in age that you can’t hold someone accountable for acting like that and doing something like that.”

Nebraska was a young team entering 2012, with only 12 starters returning. However, despite the youth, especially on defense, where only four starters returned, high expectations are par for the course in Lincoln.

Injuries have mounted throughout the season making the Cornhuskers resemble a M*A*S*H unit. The Cornhuskers are getting younger and drawing on players with less experience, especially at quarterback.

Iowa on the other hand is enjoying one of the healthiest seasons in Ferentz's 15 seasons heading the Hawkeyes. The only major setback has been senior defensive end Dominic Alvis, who was injured during the early part of the Ohio State game

Experience at quarterback is always important in conference play. Iowa opened the season with a quarterback, who had never taken a snap.  But, the Hawkeyes had all off season, since last year's end of the season loss to Nebraska to prepare. It was a three man race during Spring Drills, but sophomore Jake Rudock earned the start and will make his 12th start on Friday in Lincoln.

Nebraska entered the season, with senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who would have been a rare, four year starter at the position. But, he was lost for the regular season, after the loss at Minnesota to end the month of October.

Pelini may be down to third string senior Ron Kellog III, who is a former walk-on, who replaced second string redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, in last Saturday's 23-20 overtime win at Penn State.  Kellog was recruited by Iowa as a walk-on, as well, out of Omaha Westside.

Armstrong has started half the games this season for the Cornhuskers, in relief for the injured Martinez. In talking about the quarterback situation, Pelini said, Armstrong is "questionable" and on Martinez, "he's not healthy enough right now."

In talking about Kellog, Pelini said the following, “I think the beautiful thing about Ron is he’s the ultimate team guy. I've said it before. He’s meant a lot. He has tremendous energy. He has a great attitude. He’s what in this day in age is a tremendous team guy. Obviously he’s always wanted to play. He always kept a great attitude. He’s always helping the younger guys. He’s done everything he can with whatever role we've asked him to do. He’s done everything he can to help this team move forward. There’s a lot to be said for that. He’s a pretty special guy.”

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
stretching for yardage in
the 2011 Heroes Game in Lincoln.
It isn't just the quarterback situation for Nebraska, injuries have hit the offensive line hard this season, and the Cornhuskers top running back is not 100 percent.

Pelini said of junior Ameer Abdullah that "he's had to deal with some pain. Sometimes you wonder why he had to come out a couple of times. It was biting at him. We've had to manage it a little bit. He's done a really good job. I've said it. Ameer is a warrior. Come game time, he's going to to be ready to go. He has not been 100 percent. And that's been going on for weeks."

On the offensive line’s injuries, Pelini had the following to say.

“They are phenomenal kids. I can’t say enough about the character of those kids and the leadership they bring. How they've grown and men, and to me that’s most important. From Spencer (Long) to Cole (Pensick). You go right down the list to (Brent) Qvale and really throughout that whole senior class. There’s a lot of young men in that class. (Andrew Rodriguez). There are a lot of guys in that class that have come a long way in a lot of different ways that will never be talked about. There’s a lot of things that have happened behind the scenes where they've grown. As a coach, that’s where my satisfaction comes from. Not just what they've done in the football program or what we've done for them in the football program but through Life Skills and Dennis Leblanc in Academics. What this place does, I think it shows what we do as a program and as an athletic department works when you look at these guys and the way they've grown since the time they've gotten here to the time they've left. In the end, that’s the most important thing.”   

 Nebraska has limited Iowa to 14 points or fewer the last seven meetings.

 Three of those games, were during the three weakest seasons for Iowa under Ferentz. Iowa was only 4-8 last year. Iowa is one of eight teams nationally that have won three more games this season. than last year.  

Senior linebacker Christian Kirksey enters Friday's game needing three stops to reach 300 tackles in his career.
Iowa ranks third in total defense
among Big Ten schools,
and 10th nationally. 

On Iowa, Pelini had the following to say during his Media Conference.

“They’re a physical football team. They are well coached and in all areas of the game. They are sound in what they do. It’s nothing fancy. They execute. They are very fundamentally sound. It exudes the fact that they are a well-coached football team. They are very sound in what they do. I have a lot of respect for them. (Coach Kirk Ferentz) is obviously a guy that’s been known for his offensive coaching. (Defensive Coordinator) Phil Parker, I have as much respect for him as I do for any coach out there. These guys do a good job and their players play the right way. It’s a tough group. It’s a physical group. And they are very well coached.”

On Iowa Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis, who was in the same position at Texas, during the 2009 Big 12 Title Game vs. Nebraska and the Nebraska-Texas game in 2010 played in Lincoln, Pelini had the following to say.

“He’s had some success against us too. He’s a good coach like I said. His guys are physical. They play hard. They are a well-coached group. With Iowa and with most good football teams, it starts with the running game. They are good at it. They are well-coached at it. They do a lot of things offensively that are somewhat similar to what we saw last week. There’s obviously some differences and some other wrinkles and things. I think they’ll learn a lot from watching our film from last week and we have to be ready to make adjustments. They are always going to throw in a couple new wrinkles and new routes and that type of thing. It will be a good challenge for us.”  

On managing this week's distractions, Pelini answered with the following comments.

“I think we've handled it pretty well. We've had success on this date. It will be a good challenge for us. I like our schedule and how we are handling it. It’s a short week, but it’s a short week for Iowa too. It’s nice to be at home because it’s nice to be home on Thanksgiving. At the end of the day it should be a heckuva football game.”  
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell looks on as a 2011 teammate
battles for yardage vs. Iowa in Lincoln. He caught

five passes for 93 yards in Heroes Game I.

Pelini was also asked about executing against the Iowa defense at his Media Conference.

“We’ll run our offense and execute well. They are a well-coached team. It’s a good defense. We’ll have our work cut out for us. Are we going to try and recreate the wheel in five days? No. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to do what we do. I think we've done a pretty good job of moving the football around here. We’re going to have our work cut out for us and have some young guys in there in a number of spots. You can’t out-think yourself in a situation like this. At the same time, you have to give yourself enough bullets in the gun to give yourself an opportunity to play the best you can.”  

On the future of the program under his leadership Pelini had the following to say.

“I don’t really concern myself with that. I’m not coaching to save my job or anything else. At the end of the day, I want to be here. And I want to be here if they want me here. If they don’t and somebody doesn't want me here – and I’m not saying Shawn does or doesn't or whatever – if they don’t want me here, then I’ll move on. I’ll go on my way. Until that day happens, I’m going to do everything I can and everything in my power to make this football team the best football team I can.”

Neither Iowa nor Nebraska will play in this year's Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State won the Legends Division for 2013, so they will meet, Ohio State, who has clinched the Leaders Division, on December 7th.

Iowa has three players on its roster from the state of Nebraska, including LB Cole Fisher (Omaha), DL Drew Ott (Trumbull), and DL Nathan Bazata (Howells). Nebraska has three Iowans on its roster: WR Alex Balke (Iowa City), WR Lane Hovey (Adel), WR Gabe Rahn (Le Mars). 

In 2014, the Big Ten will realign into new divisions of East and West, due the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. Iowa and Nebraska will remain in the same division.  The series between both schools will  hopefully heat up.  Who will become the front runner in the new Big Ten West?

A win in the Heroes Game will likely provide momentum and bragging rights for 2014, as well as a nicer bowl opportunity to close out the 2013 season.

It could spark a title run in 2014 ...

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