Published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm / Updated at 8:24 pm
FOOTBALL
NU must adjust to injuries on two lines

LINCOLN — Nebraska assistant coach Rick Kaczenski had a defensive tackle playing perhaps the best and most dominating football of his career the second half of this season.

And now Baker Steinkuhler is out.

NU assistants John Garrison and Barney Cotton had a former walk-on go from defensive lineman to starting center in one of the best Husker stories of 2012.

And now Justin Jackson won't be available for the Big Ten championship game.

The reality of those two injuries settles in this weekend after Nebraska survived the loss of the two seniors Friday during the 13-7 win at Iowa. Neither will play next Saturday night when NU meets Wisconsin for the Big Ten championship.

So Nebraska shifts from thinking short-term solution to long-term answers for replacing some of the guts of the Husker lines — and against a Badger team built around its offensive and defensive fronts.

“Unfortunately it's part of the game,” Kaczenski said. “Wisconsin isn't going to feel bad for us.”

Steinkuhler (right knee) had been holding together the defensive front, where other injuries and inexperience had been problems at tackle. The Huskers will need increased snaps and production from Chase Rome and Thad Randle, and possibly more time inside from end Cameron Meredith.

Jackson (left ankle) won the starting center job in preseason practice after battling with Cole Pensick and was helping the Huskers put up impressive offensive numbers. NU went with Mark Pelini on Friday after Jackson was hurt eight plays into the game — not wanting to disrupt Pensick's rotation at left guard — but likely will re-evaluate those two this week.

BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK
Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

“We'll go back and look at the film and see,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.

Kaczenski was effusive in his praise for Steinkuhler after the Nov. 17 win over Minnesota, and said that NFL scouts had taken notice of his recent surge. After he went down with about 10 minutes left in the first half Friday, his final Husker season likely is over with 47 tackles (seven for losses) and 2Ĺ sacks.

But Kaczenski said Steinkuhler was the first one waiting for the team when it returned to the locker room after the game, and that Steinkuhler will remain a leader on the team for its two postseason games.

“After it's all said and done, the hardest thing and the thing I feel worst for is him,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “He's been such a hard worker for us. He's been everything you could ever ask out of a player, and you want their career to end on their terms.”

Kaczenski said he would get together with Papuchis and head coach Bo Pelini and figure out how to best remedy the situation.

“But obviously you lose a great player like that, it's going to affect you,” Kaczenski said. “You can't compensate with just one guy. It's going to take all 11, but in particular it's going to take two or three more guys inside stepping up more.

“I've got to do a good job getting these guys ready, and Bo and J.P. will have a great plan to help us out, and maybe offset if there's any deficiencies inside.”

Rome said he would not feel any different kind of weight on his shoulders. The sophomore was briefly off the team in September and currently has 17 tackles in nine games, two of which he has started.

“Obviously you pray for Baker and hope he's all right,” Rome said. “But it's kind of how it is. The train keeps moving. If you stop and worry about those things, it's not what Baker would want me to do.”

Before replacing Jackson, Pelini was a sophomore walk-on who had played limited snaps and none at significant points in games. Although the NU offense struggled to duplicate the success it had on that first possession of the game, Garrison said Pelini held up on a cold day and worked well with quarterback Taylor Martinez.

“I was proud of Mark for the job that he did, coming in and performing the way that he did,” Garrison said.

Beck called Pelini “an unsung hero” in the game that clinched the Legends Division title for the Huskers. He said NU knew it would get stability, toughness and smart play from the nephew of Bo Pelini — and didn't consider a change to Pensick anywhere along the way.

“I thought Mark was doing a good job in there, so why change a good thing?” Beck said.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1042, rich.kaipust@owh.com; twitter.com/RKaipustOWH

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust

rich.kaipust@owh.com    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

PHOTO GALLERY AND VIDEO »

 

< >
SPOTLIGHT »
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Omaha.com? Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.
Omaha.com's Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from Omaha.com and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
BRT ON TWITTER »
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT »
< >