ORLANDO, Fla. — Nebraska is down to one last practice Sunday, a walk-through Monday and then the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday before it says goodbye to a senior class of 29.
Most have been with head coach Bo Pelini since he took over the Husker program in 2008.
“It's a good group,” Pelini said Saturday. “Not only (with) what they did for this football program but who they are as people, and how they've represented the program.
“It's always an emotional time. It's hard to see them go. But after this game, there comes a time to turn the page and head to the next chapter of the program.”
I-back Rex Burkhead is among those that will put on the Husker uniform for the final time on New Year's Day.
“It has set in a little bit, but I'm sure I'll feel it more once the time ticks off at the end of the game,” Burkhead said.
NU linebacker Will Compton realized after Saturday's two-hour workout at Freedom High School that it was his last practice in full pads. But he said the full focus has remained on Georgia.
“I think it is important for us to get this win and send the seniors out the right way,” Compton said. “I think all of us have meant a lot to this program and have done a lot.”
Opportunity propels NU
Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said opportunity should be more of a motivating factor than redemption for the Huskers in Orlando.
The defense in particular struggled in NU's last outing, the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. And what bothered Papuchis most was that he thought his unit had “made a lot of strides” during the six-game win streak to get to Indianapolis.
“That was a special six weeks, and obviously that gets tarnished and diminished in the way things finished,” Papuchis said. “But we're all competitors and we're all excited about the challenge that lays ahead. This is an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country in one of the best bowl games in the country and on a national stage, and for us to take another step forward with this program.”
Papuchis reflects on year
Papuchis took over as NU defensive coordinator just before the Capital One Bowl a year ago. That was after Carl Pelini left to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic.
What has he learned 12 months later?
Papuchis said the biggest adjustment has been the day-to-day responsibility and big-picture aspect of things that he didn't have to worry about as the Huskers' defensive line coach and special teams coordinator.
“As a position coach, you can become very compartmentalized to your world,” he said. “Some of the things I knew going in, how it would be. Other things you kind of have to learn through experience, but I would think that's the same with any new job.
“I think I'll be better off for some of the things I learned this year, and I'm excited about things moving forward.”
Florida fans for Huskers?
They don't care much for Georgia in Gator country, so Compton was asked Saturday if Nebraska might pick up a few Florida fans since it's going against an SEC rival in the Capital One Bowl.
Maybe a few, Compton said.
“I don't know how much support we'll get, but since we've been down here we have already had a few people walk up to us and hope we beat Georgia from Florida,” Compton said, “But you can feel that rivalry down here already.”
Ball security key for NU
Georgia's defenders are skilled at stripping the football, which is certainly a concern for a Nebraska offense that averages about 2Ĺ fumbles per game.
Opponents have fumbled 36 times against the Bulldogs, the most nationally. Meanwhile, only three teams have fumbled more than Nebraska (34 times).
So that's been a point of emphasis this month, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.
“In piles, long runs — guys coming up from behind and punching it out,” Beck said. “You can see it on film, they've done a great job with it.”
But if NU's backs play with proper ball security technique, running backs coach Ron Brown said they could create chances for bigger plays by keeping their legs moving.
“They're trying to tackle the football,” Brown said. Instead of the player.
It'll be up to the Huskers to take advantage.
“We've seen it on film, we've trained for it,” Brown said. “They've got to go out and do it.”
Joseph lobbies for Moore
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph made no bones Saturday about wanting freshman athlete Alonzo Moore — who's redshirting this season — on defense. Moore, from Winnfield, La., was one of NU's top recruits in 2012 and played scout team wide receiver.
“I always want the best players in the secondary,” Joseph said of the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder. “Does some great things in scout. Probably the one guy we can't cover. He'll help us win.”
So it'll be a battle between Joseph and wide receivers coach Rich Fisher?
“That's above me and Rich's pay grade,” Joseph joked. “Bo makes those decisions and the good thing is, Bo's a defensive coach. So we'll see how it works.”
— Rich Kaipust, Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa