Less than a week after losing a beloved teammate, UCLA will step back into competition with aching hearts. Waiting for them is Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the home of sold-out, 80,000-plus crowds.
“I don’t know that we could find a more difficult situation,” head coach Jim Mora.
The Cornhuskers have already extended their sympathies for the Bruins’ recent tragedy. Early last Sunday morning, walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale was killed by a car while walking in his hometown of San Clemente.
Both UCLA and Nebraska will have his No. 36 added to their uniforms, and the stadium will take moment of silence before the 11 a.m. CST kickoff.
Once the ball flies into the air, however, Mora expects the fans in Lincoln to erupt.
“It’s still going to be a hostile environment,” he said. “When the game starts, it’s going to be they want to win and we want to win, and their fans are going to be cheering like crazy for them. We have to be able to handle all of that.”
Added Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: “We have great fans. It’s always loud here. This place is all about college football.”
Multiplying the stress is having to face quarterback Taylor Martinez. A capable runner, the senior racked up 179 passing yards and 112 rushing yards in last year’s 36-30 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
The Bruins struggled a bit against a similar quarterback in Nevada’s Cody Fajardo, who rushed for 77 of his 106 yards in the first half of their season opener. UCLA clamped down on the Wolf Pack more effectively after halftime, blowing open a 58-20 win.
Key to stopping such threats is plugging the gaps. With Martinez, Mora said, the Bruins must accept that certain plays will happen regardless of how well they play.
“You have to be assignment perfect,” Mora said. “What happens is you get frustrated, and you do something you don’t typically do and he exploits it. We saw that last year.
“Plus, he’s a tenacious competitor. … He never conceded a down. That makes it really difficult to defend the guy.”
Saturday will give UCLA another look at running back Terrell Newby, who committed to Nebraska over the Bruins in January. A Los Angeles area product who once had an eight-touchdown game at West Hills Chaminade, Newby has impressed early for the Huskers — rushing for 136 yards on 23 carries this season.
Mora said he hoped Newby has success in Lincoln. “Just very limited this weekend,” he added.
While both have found success in the college ranks, Mora and Pelini’s friendship traces back to the pros. Pelini preceded Mora as the San Francisco 49ers defensive backs coach, working there from 1994 to 1996. The UCLA coach held the same position from 1997 to 1998, after which he was promoted to defensive coordinator.
“I think what you see from Jim is he’s just a good football coach,” Pelini said. “His guys play hard, which is the first thing you look for in a good football team.”