Nebraska preaches respect for nearly every opponent it faces. But it always just seems to be a little bit more with Michigan State.
You saw that on display during Monday’s press conference, as NU coach Bo Pelini heaped praise on the Spartans’ defensive coaching staff, specifically MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, a Youngstown, Ohio native like Pelini.
“They have a lot of experience. Pat Narduzzi does a really good job. They’re well-coached on defense. And you can their guys out there, they communicate well, they’ve been in their system a long time. They’re pretty advanced…they continue to change, upgrade and get better.”
Said running back Ameer Abdullah: “Every time we play Michigan State, it’s a fistfight.”
More quick hits from the presser:
>>Look for a similar quarterback rotation as the Huskers prepare for the Spartans, Pelini said. Tommy Armstrong, Jr. to start. Ron Kellogg III in brief relief.
Armstrong, who will be facing the top-ranked total and rushing defense in the nation, won’t be rattled by the atmosphere or the stakes. If Nebraska loses, it’s mathematically impossible to win the division. If NU wins, it goes straight to the driver’s seat.
“Tommy Armstrong is not going to be intimidated,” Pelini said.
Said Armstrong: “I’ll treat it like every other week, no matter who I come up against or who our team comes up against.”
Armstrong is similarly comfortable with the Spartans reputation for constantly blitzing opposing quarterbacks.
“If you blitz, obviously, somebody’s gonna be open,” Armstrong said. “We just gotta make sure we put our guys in the right position, you know?”
>>Nebraska’s defense is playing better, nickel Ciante Evans said, because the Huskers are practicing harder and preparing better in the film. Evans, the lone defensive captain, had a chat with coach Bo Pelini about it that Jon Nyatawa will touch upon later in the week.
>>Quarterback Taylor Martinez didn’t make the trip to Michigan, Pelini said, because Nebraska had to bring extra special teams players in case of injury. Big Ten teams are allowed just 70 players on the road. Although guard Jake Cotton — who is hurt — made the trip, Martinez stayed behind in part because his younger brother, safety Drake Martinez, had surgery.
Asked point blank about Taylor Martinez’s chances of returning from injury to play at NU, Pelini gave a pretty dim prognosis. Martinez’s main malady, among many, is a two-toe tenderness on his left foot. Nebraska’s media — and thus fans — have been given a couple different stories on the injury
“It comes down to his foot, and his foot hasn’t enabled him to play,” Pelini said. “No one’s more frustrated than Taylor. It’s a foot injury that we knew could linger, and it really hasn’t gotten much better. I can’t look into a crystal ball. But it’s been tough on the kid. I don’t know if the chances are real good. It’s not a good injury to have. You just don’t know. It’s difficult to say when it’s going to heal. It’s a tough way — it’s a tough thing to happen to you during your senior year.”
Martinez’s father, Casey Martinez, wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Monday night that the senior quarterback has a “debilitating injury” near the ball of his left foot that could take until February or March to heal fully.
>>For now, Cotton is doubtful for Saturday’s game, as is tackle Jeremiah Sirles, whom Pelini said suffered the same MCL sprain injury that Cotton did. Wide receiver Kenny Bell, Jr. — who played through an injured groin despite looking hobbled — is ahead of where he was last week, Pelini said.
>>Lots of praise for Abdullah Monday, especially a glowing report from Pelini.
“The guy is a warrior,” Pelini said. “He’s a leader and he’s a winner. He wants the ball in his hands. He’s everything you want on the field. He’s everything you want off the field.”
Pelini said he’d be “shocked” if Abdullah left a year early for the NFL Draft.
More on this later in the week.
>>You might have thought freshman running back Terrell Newby made a mistake not fielding that punt against Michigan Saturday that turned out to roll 69 yards. But Pelini said the mistake was his in not giving Newby full instructions. Nebraska told Newby to stay from the punt if it was low line drive into the wind. As it turned out, Matt Wile hit what Pelini called “mortar shot” and Newby stuck to what he was told.
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini
Video: Nebraska offensive lineman Brent Qvale
Video: Nebraska defensive back Ciante Evans
Video: Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong
Video: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah