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Monday, August 22, 2011
Huskers cram for new tests in Big Ten

By Adam Rittenberg

They typically met around 1 p.m., after class, in the Nebraska football complex.

Cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard, Ciante Evans and Antonio Bell found a film room, slipped inside and closed the door. They grabbed notepads and pens, flipped on the television and didn't come out for the next two hours.

With 11 new opponents on the 2011 schedule, including eight teams in their new league, the Big Ten, the Nebraska players had no time to waste.

Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard
Alfonzo Dennard, left, and his Husker teammates put in some extra time in the film room to prepare for their first season in the Big Ten.
"We went in there every day," Dennard said. "We had to watch a lot of tape on the Big Ten because we never played against them. In the Big 12, we knew what to expect and who to look out for. But the Big Ten, we really don't know anything."

Offseason film review is part of every team's regimen, but Nebraska players and coaches might be more bleary-eyed than most when September rolls around. Aside from Week 3 opponent Washington, a team Nebraska faced twice in 2010 (with very different results), it's a whole new world for Big Red this season.

The preparation process began in February, and players and coaches studied at different speeds. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini finished reviewing Big Ten offenses by the start of spring practice, while others hadn't gone quite as in depth.

"I feel great about the preparation we've had," head coach Bo Pelini said. "We put a lot of work in."

Dennard, Evans and Bell organized their study by examining Nebraska's new opponents in order. They started with Chattanooga, which Nebraska hosts Sept. 3 in the season opener. To get a good gauge on the Mocs, they studied a game against a strong opponent -- in Chattanooga's case, Appalachian State.

Down the list they went until the first Big Ten opponent, Wisconsin, a team Nebraska faces Oct. 1 in Madison.

"They’ll try to run the ball to lull you to sleep, and then they’ll hit you with a play-action," Dennard said "So you've got to stay focused and on top of their receivers because they have a pretty good receiver, Nick Toon."

The Huskers cornerbacks took notes on each new team.

"We'll write down, 'First down, they'll run the ball. Second down, they'll probably play-action,'" Dennard said.

The perceived stylistic differences between the Big Ten and Big 12 have been brought up throughout Nebraska's transition. Most see the Huskers moving from a finesse league filled with spread offenses and speed to a conference with more traditional schemes and power, particularly along the line of scrimmage. That might be simplifying things a bit.

When Huskers defensive tackle Jared Crick watched tape this offseason, the differences between the Big 12 and the Big Ten didn't jump out as much as the differences between Nebraska and every other team in America.

"Especially watching the Big Ten, offense and defense, it's nothing like ours," Crick said. "They play completely different. ... It's tough sometimes watching game film, when you're trying to see what they plan on running at you because no one plays like you. It's kind of up in the air. You have an idea, but you don't know [for sure]."

Crick and Carl Pelini both noted that while Nebraska might have a larger volume of prep work for the season, the other Big Ten teams will be surprised when they turn on tape of the Huskers. Nebraska is introducing a new offensive system this year under Tim Beck, but the real curveball could come from the Blackshirts defense.

"I expect them to run their base stuff at us to try and punch us in the mouth with what they do best," Crick said, "but honestly, I haven't seen a defense anywhere that's like ours. Ours is the most unique defense in the nation, so they're going to have to tweak some things for us, tweak their whole offensive game plan altogether.

"Our defense is unlike any others, not only in scheme but in personnel."

The prep work will continue on both sides for the next few weeks, but Dennard knows it's all about making adjustments on game day.

"They'll probably change everything up," he said, "so you can't be set for what they're going to do because of what they did last year.

"It's a process, but we know what to look for now."