LINCOLN — Two bye weeks in a four-game stretch is not only unusual, but some might see it as disruptive in the middle of a football season as teams try to find a rhythm.
At least this season, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he'll take it.
“Normally, I don't think I'd like it,” Pelini said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference. “But with the youth on our team, I think it's kind of what the doctor ordered for us. I like it. I think it'll help us get better, not just injury-wise but giving us a chance to continue to help us to grow, especially on the defensive side of the football.
“I like the way it set up for us. I thought we made a big jump coming out of the first bye. We were able to get a lot of things done, and (get) things that happened to us early in the year cleaned up.”
Nebraska played four nonconference games before an open Saturday on Sept. 28. After hosting Illinois last Saturday and traveling this week to Purdue, the Huskers will have their last bye Oct. 19.
The second off week will be a consideration as NU tries to decide what to do about quarterback Taylor Martinez (turf toe), who hasn't played since the UCLA game Sept. 14.
“I'd be lying if I said that having the bye coming up next week doesn't play into it a little bit,” Pelini said. “But first and foremost, my only concern right now is doing what we have to do to go into West Lafayette and play well.”
Martinez still out
Martinez wore a boot again on his left foot — where he's suffering from a turf toe injury — and did not practice Tuesday.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck didn't offer any updates and Martinez declined to comment as he walked off the field.
If Martinez can't play, Beck continues to prefer playing both redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong — who has started the last two games — and fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg. In wins against South Dakota State and Illinois, Armstrong played the first two series — leading NU to touchdowns on all four drives — while Kellogg got the third series in each game.
“You never know who's got the hot hand,” Beck said. “You never know what the game's going to turn into.”
Since neither Armstrong nor Kellogg have much game experience, it's important that both continue to get game reps in case one gets hurt while Martinez is injured, Beck said.
The reps continue to be split as evenly as possible in practice. Beck said he challenged Armstrong on Tuesday.
“I coached him pretty hard today,” Beck said. “I had to put my arm around him at the end of practice, just knowing he's that kind of guy, he doesn't let things get to him.”
NU's offense has been pared down since a 41-21 loss to UCLA made Beck wonder whether the Huskers were practicing too much without using all of what they'd practiced in the game. Beck said he had intended to pare down the offense in the wake of that game regardless of Martinez's health — because he thought Martinez would play against South Dakota State.
“I knew he was hurting after UCLA, but by Wednesday I figured he'd be practicing and we'd get him back,” Beck said. “The plan to pare it down was the plan to pare it down. It just so happens Tommy took over. The plays we ran probably would have been the same with Taylor.”
Homecoming for Gregory
Sophomore Randy Gregory was almost a Boilermaker. Twice.
So this weekend's matchup at Purdue is one he's been looking forward to for a while.
Gregory, a defensive end from Fishers, Ind., committed to Purdue out of high school and planned to stick with that pledge after one season at Arizona Western Community College.
But he got hurt last year. Purdue's coaching staff was later fired. And he got a call from NU defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski, who soon persuaded him to visit Nebraska.
“It's a real big week for me,” he said. “It was a big plus seeing them on the schedule and being able to play against them.”
Lots of family and friends will be in the stands. He said he knows several members of Purdue's team, including most of the offensive line. Starting left guard Devin Smith attended Arizona Western with Gregory.
“If we run some stunts or some blitzes, I'll go up against him,” Gregory said. “I'm sure I'll run into him a few times and talk to him a little bit.”
Gregory said he used to visualize playing at Ross-Ade Stadium for Purdue. He's been to several games. Back in high school, he was a “big fan” of former Boilermaker Ryan Kerrigan, now an outside linebacker with the Washington Redskins.
But by the time Purdue hired a new coaching staff, Gregory had decided to attend Nebraska. The Boilers never reached out to Gregory after that. It wouldn't have mattered.
“At that point,” he said, “I wasn't going to change my mind.”
Big moment for Afalava
Jared Afalava had to tell himself not to look up in the Memorial Stadium crowd last Saturday.
“In my head I was thinking, 'It's just practice, it's just practice,' ” said the redshirt freshman linebacker from South Jordan, Utah. “It's crazy looking up at the crowd, but in my mind I was just thinking: 'It's just practice.' ”
So how did the biggest “practice” of the his career go? Afalava had his most extensive playing time against the Illini, finishing with eight tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and an iffy late-hit penalty on the sack.
“I did all right,” Afalava said. “I'm not going to lie — I don't think I did that good. Everybody was telling me 'Oh, you did good, you did good.' I just said 'all right.' ”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder got a stern talking-to from coaches after making a mistake in the game, but he answered that play with a 3-yard tackle for loss. Afalava said he was supposed to stay “inside” on the stretch run play instead of going outside. When he did, he broke free for the tackle for loss.
It was the peak of what had been a long training camp and early season for Afalava, who missed time because of a strained neck. Hard hits would hurt his nerves. Therapy from Husker trainers, Afalava said, has helped take away much of the pain so he can play.
Look for the Boilermakers to run an offense that allows the NU defense to play its 4-3 base. Afalava said he expects to play “a good bunch” against Purdue. Afalava didn't have the best day in practice staying disciplined with his eyes, he said, and Pelini is “trying to get me right.”
“He wants me to read my keys, transfer my eyes to the right places,” Afalava said. “I gotta be looking at the right place before the snap, and once the ball snaps, if (the key) doesn't do this or that, I gotta transfer my eyes. What did I do today? I just wasn't reading the right things.”
Boilers better on 'D'
Purdue's defense — ranked 79th nationally — is “faster and more aggressive” than Illinois' defense, Beck intimated.
“They play hard,” Beck said. “They run to the football. They tackle well. They hit. It's hard to believe they're 1-4 or whatever they are.”
Slot receiver Jamal Turner did not practice Tuesday. He pulled a hamstring against the Illini.
Cornerback Josh Mitchell — who left the Illinois game with an ankle injury — practiced, as did linebacker Zaire Anderson, who sat out the game with a bone bruise.
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Video: The Big Red Today Show, Oct. 8