Quick notes from the Big Ten Championship press conference one day before the game between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Here’s notes and video from NU coach Bo Pelini and UW coach Bret Bielema.
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>> Running back Rex Burkhead is “100 percent” and “knocked the rust off” in NU’s 13-7 win over Iowa. Pelini said Nebraska’s sustained no other major injuries heading into the game other than center Justin Jackson and defensive tackel Baker Steinkuhler.
>> Pelini said he wasn’t concerned about replacements for Jackson and Steinkuhler, and in fact saw Burkhead’s return as an offset to those losses.
“We had a really good week of practice, and now it’s time to put it to the test…I full like we have our full gamut. Everything we want offensively and defensively.”
>> No decision on who will start at center.
>> On Taylor Martinez, Pelini said the junior quarterback has grown through early explosive success, “some difficulties” and continued to get better because of an strong offseason and experience in coordinator Tim Beck’s system.
Pelini said Martinez may be an introvert with the media, but he’s learned embrace the role and improve in answering questions.
“It’s taken Taylor some time to learn how to deal with it, how to manage it,” Pelini said. “I don’t think he enjoys it a whole heck of a lot.”
>> Pelini’s 29 seniors “really helped solidify the culture” at Nebraska, spurring this run, he said.
>> Asked why Nebraska’s been so good at finishing games during the six-week winning streak, Pelini again cited his team’s character and ability to make plays down the stretch.
>> Wisconsin has five starters back that weren’t at the Badgers’ disposal in the Sept. 29 game. Pelini was asked if those five starters would make a difference; he demurred, and pointed to general strengths of UW’s squad: defensive line; secondary; offensive line.
“They’re a lot better football team than we played in September,” Pelini said.
Pelini said he expected “a couple new wrinkles” from the Badgers, like a “couple different formations.” Pelini said his nine-year experience in the NFL — in which divisional opponents played each twice a year — helps him to grasp the process.
>> The Badgers’ offense won’t change much under quarterback Curt Phillips, but Wisconsin “is not afraid to run him,” which adds an extra element to Nebraska’s defensive gameplan.
>> Pelini had no concerns about lagging ticket sales and expects a good atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Anybody who was at the Northwestern game and saw how many Nebraska fans showed up…I would expect nothing less tomorrow night,” he said.
>> Pelini said “it’d be pretty special” to present outgoing athletic director Tom Osborne with the Big Ten Championship should NU win.
“He’s a special man,” Pelini said. “It’d be a nice way to send him out.”
Now that Pelini’s been through the league for two years, he was asked what he’d consider the identity of the Big Ten. What the league hangs its hat on – and how that compares to the Big 12.
“It’s a physical league,” Bielema said. ”There’s great size in this league. Across the board. Not just big up front.” Pelini said he often looks across at the opposing sidelines and sees big, “good-looking football players” every week.
>> Asked if Nebraska would like Wisconsin in its division once Rutgers and Maryland join the league, Pelini suggested placing Rutgers or Maryland in the Legends Division.
And Wisconsin? “I kind of like where they are right now,” Pelini quipped.
>> Linebacker Chris Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis will play Saturday. Bielema said Borland’s return is crucial to Wisconsin’s defense, as he’s the quarterback of it.
>> Quarterback Curt Phillips — a fifth-year senior who’s torn his ACL three times and had played sparingly until recently — didn’t make the trip to last year’s Big Ten Championship game, which is one reason why Wisconsin chose to walk-through Lucas Oil Stadium Friday and Phillips got Peyton Manning’s old locker in the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room.
>> Bielema said Nebraska has an advantage because it played one day earlier vs. Iowa instead of the Badgers, which played Penn State Saturday afternoon. Bielema said he’s challenged his team to “make up that day” in its practices this week.
>> NU quarterback Taylor Martinez, Bielema said, is making decisions with the ball.
>> Wisconsin is referring to Saturday as an “eraser game,” because it can, in Bielema’s words, “wash away” earlier losses this year.
>> The turning point of running back Montee Ball’s season, Bielema said, was a run in the second half of Purdue game, when “he did a patented, side-step jump cut and accelerated away from the rest.” That’s when Bielema knew Ball was back to his 2011 self.
>> Bielema said he’s hired “almost 25″ assistant coaches in his seven years.
>> The Badgers aren’t out for revenge, Bielema said, as they might have been last year, when Michigan State beat them on a controversial Hail Mary play.
“Nebraska beat us game one, hands down, no gray area,” Bielema said. So Wisconsin’s goal for this week is more to beat a team that’s already won the first game, not “right a wrong.”
>> Bielema said some of UW’s losses this year have been “heartbreaking,” but it’s better than its record.
“It’s the best 7-5 team I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.
Bielema was asked the big picture question as well. His answer on the Big Ten’s identity:
“I’d love to have five other Big Ten teams ranked in the Top 20, but this hasn’t been our year,” Bielema said. “It’s been a year of ups and downs. Every time we seem to take a step forward we get knocked back down. The great thing is, for whatever reason, we’ve got an opportunity to play on the biggest scale there is tomorrow night. We’re the last game of championship weekend.”
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Video: Pelini, Bielema press conference