Big Ten previews: Nebraska gears up for UCLA rematch

Big Ten previews: Nebraska gears up for UCLA rematch
September 12, 2013, 11:30 am
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Vinnie Duber

It's not like Nebraska is out for revenge, but to say they'd very much like to beat UCLA would be hitting the nail right on the head.

The Huskers host the Bruins on Saturday, welcoming to Lincoln one of only four teams that beat them a year ago. The 36-30 UCLA win in Pasadena, Calif., was part of the embarrassing 1-3 record Nebraska had against ranked teams in 2012, something it will get an immediate opportunity to correct if it wants to be part of any number of conversations later in the year.

Immediate corrections, however, are something that Nebraska has specialized in over this season's first two weeks. The inexperienced Husker defense was lit up in Week 1 by Wyoming, with Nebraska fortunate enough to escape with a 37-34 win. The next week, though the competition was brought significantly down with Southern Miss in town, so were the mistakes, and the Husker defense limited the Golden Eagles to just 13 points and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns.

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What was the difference?

"We executed," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said simply on Tuesday. "I thought we communicated well, we made adjustments better and we just overall played better. We weren't our own worst enemy, which we were a lot of times against Wyoming."

This Jekyll-and-Hyde defense really needs to come to play against UCLA. The Bruins have played just once this season, but they dumped 58 points on Nevada in a blowout win in Week 1. Quarterback Brent Hundley completed 22 of 33 passes and scored four total touchdowns.

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Pelini wasn't happy with the way his defense played in last year's meeting, saying that unit just didn't make plays.

"We didn't do that very well a year ago," Pelini said. "We missed a lot of tackles, which really hurt us, added up to a lot of yards after first contact. Obviously that's an emphasis this week. But when you get out there you can emphasize it all you want, you get to Saturday, you've got to make plays."

So with all that, are the Huskers out for revenge?

"I don't think they are," Pelini said. "It's a different time, a different team, different football teams on both sides. Believe me, our team has a lot of respect for UCLA and their program, what they're doing. That in itself better get you motivated because you know the type of challenge that's coming our way."

The Huskers and Bruins kickoff from Lincoln at 11 a.m. on ABC.

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All Big Ten games played on Saturday, Sept. 14.

Bowling Green at Indiana, 11 a.m., ESPNU. Indiana needs a win following a disastrous loss last week against Navy. The Midshipmen dominated the Hoosier defense that has looked weak two weeks in a row now. It won't get much of a respite with the Falcons, either. Bowling Green has scored a combined 75 points in its first two games.

Western Illinois at Minnesota, 11 a.m, Big Ten Network. The Golden Gophers are big favorites to top this FCS opponent, and it's a key piece to a potentially terrific start to the season by this Minnesota team. It doesn't look like a Big Ten powerhouse, but Minnesota has dropped a combined 95 points in its first two victories. Plus, a soft schedule including Western Illinois and San Jose State figures to set up the Gophers as undefeated headed into conference play.

Akron at No. 11 Michigan, 11 a.m., Big Ten Network. The Wolverines shouldn't have much trouble avoiding the letdown after their big win over Notre Dame. Akron was blown out in its season-opening loss to Central Florida and only dispatched of FCS foe James Madison by two points last week. Meanwhile, the Wolverines are rolling through two games, with Devin Gardner throwing and rushing for a combined 590 yards and eight touchdowns. Plus, Jeremy Gallon is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after his three-touchdown performance against the Fighting Irish.

[RELATED: Northwestern playing like a top-20 team as schedule eases]

Youngstown State at Michigan State, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network. An FCS opponent is just what the doctor ordered for a Spartans team that could really use a game to get their offense oriented. You would think matchups with Western Michigan and South Florida would have taken care of that, but the Michigan State quarterback situation is a mess, with coach Mark Dantonio rotating three guys who have all proven ineffective thus far. The good news is the defense, which has performed well and scored twice as many touchdowns as the Spartan offense.

Iowa at Iowa State, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1. The battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy is one of the bigger under-the-radar games for a Big Ten team this week. It isn't one of the more glamorous matchups against a Pac-12 opponent, but it should tell a lot about who Iowa is. The Hawkeyes lost to a good Northern Illinois team in Week 1 thanks mostly to a freshman mistake by Jake Rudock at the end of the game. They predictably handled Missouri State last week. This road test against a Big 12 team — which has beaten Iowa in each of the past two meetings — will show whether or not the Hawkeyes can avoid back-to-back seasons without a bowl appearance.

Central Florida at Penn State, 5 p.m., Big Ten Network. The trials of Christian Hackenberg continue for the Nittany Lions, though so far the freshman QB has looked darn good. He might have just as many interceptions as touchdowns (three each), but his 589 passing yards rank second in the conference, and his 70.3 completion percentage ranks in the top half of the Big Ten, ahead of more experienced quarterbacks like Gardner and Trevor Siemian. The Lions should watch out, however, as the Knights provide a tough test this week. They've outscored their opponents by a combined 76-7 in their first two wins.

[MORE: Illini flying high heading into big test vs. Washington]

No. 19 Washington at Illinois, 5 p.m., Big Ten Network. What better way to see if the Fighting Illini are for real than against a Top 20 team? Illinois has been extremely impressive through its first two games, racking up 986 yards of total offense. Nathan Scheelhaase enters the week as the conference's leading passer, and a huge win over Cincinnati has the Illini receiving votes in both polls. But this game is the real measuring stick, as Washington thumped Boise State back in Week 1 and has is carrying plenty of its own momentum. Plus, this Illini home game is being played on the big stage of Soldier Field.

No. 4 Ohio State at California, 6 p.m., FOX. Big Ten fans should know what Cal is capable of after the Golden Bears put up plenty of points and ran plenty of offense against Northwestern in Week 1. The Wildcats escaped with a win, and they were similarly dinged up as the Buckeyes are currently. Quarterback Braxton Miller was injured against San Diego State, and his status is still unknown -- though coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday he was optimistic Miller would play. Thankfully Ohio State has a more-than-capable backup in Kenny Guiton, but its the defense Meyer needs to focus on, as Cal freshman quarterback Jared Goff has already thrown for 935 yards this season.

No. 21 Notre Dame at Purdue, 7 p.m., ABC. Purdue has been far and away the least impressive of the Big Ten teams through two games this season, and a date with a Notre Dame team in need of a bounce-back win doesn't seem like a good way for the Boilermakers to start finding their footing. Purdue did pick up their first win of the year with a six-point victory over FCS foe Indiana State last week. But the team's next two games come against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, which looks like an easy way to wind up 1-3. Boilermakers quarterback Rob Henry has still yet to throw a touchdown.

[RELATED: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 2]

Western Michigan at No. 17 Northwestern, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network. The Wildcats begin their tenure as a Top 20 team with the first game of a brief ease in the schedule. Of course, Pat Fitzgerald's team will treat this like any other game, but after tests against teams from the Pac-12 and the ACC, it'll be good for the Cats to stretch their legs against a MAC opponent. And hopefully fans will witness the same kinds of offensive explosions Northwestern has exhibited in its first two games. Quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian have combined to go 49-for-67 and throw for 674 yards and five touchdowns.

No. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State, 9:30 p.m., ESPN. The Badgers will finally have the opportunity to show they can succeed against higher quality opposition with this trip to Tempe. Wisconsin has destroyed both its opponents so far, outscoring them 93-0, but those opponents were UMass and Tennessee Tech. Things will get significantly harder with the Sun Devils — as no Big Ten team has beat them on the road — but the Badgers do bring in an astonishing running game that has seen James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement each go over 100 yards in each of the first two games.