November 4, 2010

Thursday notebook: Martinez a game time decision

All eyes of Husker Nation have been focused on the right ankle of redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez this week, and his playing status didn't get any clearer as Nebraska wrapped up its final practice of the week on Thursday.

While Martinez, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week against Missouri, has been able to practice in some fashion or another the past three days, head coach Bo Pelini still wouldn't rule him 100 percent ready to play against Iowa State on Saturday.

"He practiced today, and he's getting better each day," Pelini said. "It'll probably be a game time decision, but he's getting better every day."

Should Martinez not be able to play on Saturday, the Huskers will have to turn to either senior Zac Lee or sophomore Cody Green to make their first start of the season. However, Pelini said Martinez would be comfortable running the game plan Nebraska has set for Iowa State despite the practice time he's missed this week.

As he's done all year, Pelini said he would be perfectly comfortable playing any of his three quarterbacks against the Cyclones, saying the depth and experience NU has at the position is a nice luxury in these types of situations.

"We have three quarterbacks, and we have good depth at the position," Pelini said. "You deal with things like that as the year wears on. Fortunately they're all getting better, and Taylor's getting better as he's progressed through the week. We have a lot of good options there at the quarterback position."

In other injury news, Pelini said junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who suffered a concussion in the first quarter of last week's win over the Tigers, was able to work out with the team on Thursday but did not fully participate for the fourth straight day.

Still, Pelini said Dennard hasn't been officially ruled out for Saturday's game.

"No one's been officially ruled out," Pelini said.

Should Dennard not be able to play, it's expected that true freshman Ciante Evans would get the start in his place. Evans excelled in his first extensive action of the year against Missouri, and Pelini said he and the rest of the coaching staff have full faith that Evans would be up to the task if necessary.

"He's getting better," Pelini said. "I thought he stepped in last week and did a really good job. He's continuing to grow, and we have a lot of confidence in him. We had confidence in him. We expect big things from him."

- Robin Washut

Thursday practice takes
Road scoring record: Not only has Nebraska won its past six straight road games dating back to last season, it's been lighting up the scoreboard in the process. The Huskers have averaged 51.7 points in their three road games this season, which is one pace to set the highest single season average in school history. The current record is 49.8 ppg set back in 1995, followed by 42.2 ppg in 1983. Should NU break the 40-point mark Saturday at Iowa State, this team will join the '95 and '82 Nebraska squads as the only to score 40 or more points in four straight road games. The Huskers have scored no fewer than 48 points in their three road games this season.

Gabbert under fire: After his less-than-impressive showing last week against Nebraska, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert took some pretty heavy criticism from Tiger fans, especially on his Twitter account. The Columbia Missourian reported than some of Gabbert's 7,000-plus followers used the social media outlet to blast him for his performance, including some saying they would voice their displeasure to him if they saw him in person. With what NU receiver Niles Paul went through two weeks ago, the issue of whether collegiate athletes should have public Twitter and Facebook pages comes into question. In response to his negative Twitter messages, Gabbert simply tweeted back, "Headed back to work. People who hide behind twitter accounts are funny to me!"
Injury report: Head coach Bo Pelini said redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez (ankle) would likely be a game time decision on Saturday. As for junior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (concussion), Pelini said he worked out with the team on Thursday but did not fully practice for the fourth straight day. However, Pelini said Dennard has still not yet been officially ruled out to play this week. The Huskers got some good injury news when Pelini said senior defensive end Pierre Allen (knee) was officially cleared to play against the Cyclones.

What's on tap next: The Nebraska football team practiced in helmets only inside the Hawks Championship Center and the fields north of Memorial Stadium on Thursday for their final full session of the week. The Huskers will hold a brief walk-thru session on Friday before heading to Ames, Iowa, to take on Iowa State on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

2009 loss still looms

It takes some especially unique circumstances for a 9-7 game to be remembered as vividly as Nebraska's loss to Iowa State last year has been.

When you commit an astonishing eight turnovers and literally hand an under-matched team an upset victory, it makes it a little harder to forget than most games.

Head coach Bo Pelini has done his best to put that loss behind him and his team, and he's even gone as far as to not even publicly acknowledge the game at all.

"What game?" Pelini said with a smile when asked about the loss. "I don't know what you're referring to. Next question."

For as much as Pelini and his team have tried to move on from that disastrous performance, the truth is there is no way to completely block it out as the Huskers get ready for their final rematch with the Cyclones on Saturday.

In particular, the offense has made ball security a bigger priority than ever this week, especially in regards to holding onto the football and not putting it on the ground like they did five times last season.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said he's seen the Cyclones make a concerted effort to trying to strip the ball while making tackles under head coach Paul Rhoads.

"They do a great job, and you can see it on film," Watson said. "They put their hats on the football and they do a great job of stripping the football. They're really active in their pursuit to the ball, and they do a great job of ripping and pulling and tugging. We're very aware of that."

Iowa State comes into Saturday's game ranked 11th in the country in turnovers gained with 20, trailing only Oklahoma State (22) for the best total in the Big 12 Conference. On paper, Nebraska has been relatively good with holding onto the ball, only committing 12 turnovers on the year. However, that number is somewhat misleading when you consider the fact that the Huskers have lost just nine of their 26 fumbles on the year.

For as much as last season's turnover fest still stings the Huskers, maybe Pelini's short memory is the best approach in officially putting it behind them for good.

"I can't say it's not in the back of all of our minds, but Coach Pelini does a good job of keeping us focused on it's just a game," said senior receiver Niles Paul, who fumbled just before scoring a touchdown in last year's loss. "It's just another Big 12 game, and we want to win it and we want to play hard. That's the only way you can look at it."

- Robin Washut

KU vs. NU set for 6 p.m. PPV telecast

For the fourth time this season and the 21st time since 2003, Nebraska will play a game on pay-per view. With the Huskers' move to the Big Ten Conference next season, this will probably be the final ever pay-per view broadcast NU fans will be forced to pay for.

It was announced on Thursday that the Kansas-Nebraska game on Nov. 13 will be picked up on FSN pay-per view for the cost of $39.95. This will be the 12th time Pelini's teams have appeared on pay-per view since coming to NU in 2008 and the fourth time this season.

That number leads the country, as very few other schools opt for the pay-per view option if not picked up by regular television. Nebraska is one of the few schools where a pay-per view game actually brings in as much or more money for the TV network and the University as a regularly televised game.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said in a written statement that having a 6 p.m. kickoff is not ideal, but it was the only option for NU if it wanted the game to be picked up on PPV. The other traditional PPV window offered by FSN is at 11:30 a.m., but there was difficulty getting a TV production truck to Lincoln in time for an early broadcast.

"The pay-per-view telecast gives us the opportunity for as many of our fans as possible across the country to see the game," Osborne said. "Because of TV contracts and the logistics of being able to put the telecast together, an evening start was our only option."

- Sean Callahan

Quick hits

***Pelini said senior defensive end Pierre Allen, who missed some time this week with a knee injury, practiced Thursday and is expected to be back in the starting lineup on Saturday.

***After missing the first part of the year with a foot injury he suffered prior to the season opener, Pelini said sophomore linebacker Will Compton never stopped being involved in the defense throughout his absence, which he said has paid off since Compton's return.

"You never would have known he was hurt," Pelini said. "He was out here every day and stayed engaged in what was going on. He knew he was coming back, and those things paid off for him."

***Junior tackle Marcel Jones has yet to play a single snap this season after missing the first few weeks with a back injury, but Pelini again said Jones is healthy and able to play whenever he's called upon.

"Right now, we're concerned with the here and now, and he's anxious to play," Pelini said. "He's healthy. He's feeling good. I think right now his mindset is on playing."

***Junior safety Austin Cassidy was named to the Academic All-District Team on Thursday for the second year in a row. Cassidy, who earned his first-career start last week against Missouri, holds a 3.88 cumulative grade point average and is majoring in psychology.

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