Deserving or Not, the Nebraska Cornhuskers Are in a Bowl Game, Play UCLA Saturday
Six weeks and a day before Levi's Stadium hosts Super Bowl 50, the home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers will be the site of a college football oddity, a five-win Nebraska football team in a bowl game.
The Huskers square off against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl, Saturday night. It's the eighth straight year Nebraska has played in a bowl game. The Huskers have won just once in their last five post season appearances. Overall, it's bowl game number 52 for Nebraska, their first with a losing record.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers' Greg Sharpe about not only the game against the Bruins, but the chance for this Nebraska team to get another series of practices together after a disappointing season.
The Huskers (5-7) beleaguered pass defense (121st in the nation) will be in for an extreme test Saturday night.
UCLA (8-4) is led by the top freshman quarterback in the nation, Josh Rosen, who completed nearly 60 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 20 touchdowns and more than 3,300 yards. He was picked off just twice in the Bruins' final six games. Getting to Rosen will be a challenge for the Nebraska defense. He was sacked just 15 times in 12 games.
Rosen has five different receivers who are all active in the passing game. Senior Jordan Payton had 75 catches in 2015, junior Thomas Duarte had 49 for a team-leading ten touchdowns.
The Bruins can also run the ball, with senior Paul Perkins earning first team All-PAC-12 honors with 13 touchdowns and an average of nearly six yards per carry.
The Blackshirt defense will be without defensive back Jonathon Rose, who has been kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons. Injuries have been the other issue for Nebraska on defense, where only four players started all 12 games this season.
Junior defensive back Nate Gerry, a Sioux Falls native, led the Blackshirts with 75 tackles and four interceptions in 2015. Redshirt freshman Freedom Akinmoladun and junior Greg McMullen combined for 8.5 sacks.
Nebraska's offense is looking for the confidence and consistency that escaped them much of the season. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is looking to stop a late season skid that saw him throw nine of his 16 interceptions in the Huskers final three games.
Jordan Westerkamp was Armstrong's top target in 2015, with 63 catches for more than 800 yards. He caught one-third of Armstrong's 21 touchdown passes.
UCLA's pass defense is formidable. The Bruins were number one in the PAC-12, allowing just 206 yards per game thru the air, tops in sacks (27), and second in the league in interceptions (12). Linebacker Aaron Wallace and defensive tackle Kenny Clark combined for 12 sacks, nine different Bruin defenders picked off passes in 2015.
Nebraska will need to establish Terrell Newby, Imani Cross and the running game to have any chance of winning. The Huskers were 0-5 this season when throwing the ball 40 or more times in a game.
The Big Red will also need to do avoid two things they struggled with all year - turnovers and penalties. Nebraska was 119th in the nation in turnover margin (-13) and 108th in penalties.
Kickoff is 8:15 PM Central time, Saturday night in Santa Clara, California. Listen to the game live on your home for Nebraska football in the Sioux Empire - ESPN 99.1.
Here is my complete interview with Greg on the match-up with the Bruins: