LINCOLN, Neb. -- Did he or didn’t he implore his football team to seek revenge?
According to several Nebraska players, coach Bo Pelini, after their victory last week over Southern Miss, reminded all present in the locker room that they “owe” UCLA a thing or two in the wake of its victory over the Huskers last year at the Rose Bowl.
The Bruins piled up 653 yards on Nebraska, the second-highest figure surrendered in school history.
Asked later if revenge factored in his plan for Nebraska success Saturday at Memorial Stadium (noon ET, ABC), Pelini dispelled the notion.
“I don’t use that at all,” he said.
And does it matter what he said?
“Both teams are going to be emotional,” the sixth-year Nebraska coach said. “Both teams are going to want to win. … I’m pretty positive our team is motivated no matter what the situation. It just so happens we played this team a year ago. If that provides our guys with extra motivation, so be it.
“I would hope it does.”
Yes, it does, thanks, in part, to Pelini’s message last week.
“It’s big,” senior defensive end Jason Ankrah said. “We look at our schedule and circle certain games. We owe them. We owe them one.”
The Huskers and Bruins engaged in a shootout a year ago. Nebraska blinked midway through the fourth quarter as UCLA defensive end Datone Jones sacked Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez for a safety to unlock tie at 27. After a drive that ended with three incompletions, Martinez was intercepted by on a second-down throw by Andrew Abbott with just more than three minutes to play
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley hit Johnathan Franklin for a score three plays later to seal the victory.
Martinez described the loss as the most difficult of his career. A graduate of Corona (Calif.) Centennial, he grew up as a fan of the Bruins. He wanted to attend UCLA, but former coach Rick Neuheisel showed interest in Martinez only as a safety.
“I think we’re a lot better than we were last year and a lot more prepared,” Martinez said.
He, too, said “the whole team feels like we owe them one."
The fifth-year senior can help his cause by hanging tight in the pocket. Martinez, according to ESPN Stats and Information, has completed 77 percent of his throws from the pocket this year -- 12 percent better than a year ago -- and that the Huskers are 8-0 since the start of last season when Martinez completes at least two-thirds of his throws inside the pocket.
Defensively, the Cornhuskers have to find a way to slow down Hundley and the Bruins. Led by the sophomore QB, the Bruins avoided Nebraska tacklers last year to the tune of more than 300 yards after initial contact, according to Pelini.
It’s a trend that has continued. Nebraska opponents have gained a whopping 73.8 percent of their receiving yardage after the catch over the Huskers’ past three games, dating to last year. The 344 passing yards allowed per game over that time ranks as the third most among FBS teams.
As Pelini is known to say, that’s about execution -- no doubt a better tactic than revenge.