- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium Saturday against South Dakota State after a week that likely felt like a month to many of the Cornhuskers. Here’s what we’ll be watching.
Ready or not: The past week unfolded like no other in recent history at Nebraska. It began with the attempt to rebound from a deflating loss to UCLA but quickly morphed into a full-blown drama over head coach Bo Pelini’s controversial two-year-old comments about Nebraska's fans. Everyone was distracted, but how will the Huskers respond? All of this has the potential to unify the Huskers or splinter them.
Hello, Tommy: Fourth-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez looks unlikely to play because of a turf toe injury. So if, as expected, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong gets the call for Nebraska, it marks an exciting moment for the Huskers. Armstrong might well represent the future at this position for the program. This could a preview. The dual-threat Texan has yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level.
Remember the Jackrabbits: Nebraska is 9-0 against FCS competition, though this game offers more storylines than any of the previous mismatches. South Dakota State pushed Nebraska in a 17-3 Huskers victory in 2010. This SDSU team might be better, led by running back Zach Zenner, who tops all players at the FCS and FBS levels in rushing. Strange as it sounds, the Jackrabbits, who will bring a strong contingent of fans to Lincoln, probably care more about their game next week, when they host North Dakota State, the top-ranked FCS team and a Missouri Valley Conference rival.
Are we having fun yet?: Before Pelini’s week descended into a nightmarish scenario, he spent much of his time with the media on Monday talking about how he hoped to inject fun back into the game for his players. They played tight against UCLA, evidenced by the avalanche of mistakes and poor execution after the Bruins began to cut a 18-point deficit. So just how does Pelini achieve his plan now? A few Huskers said it’s simply a matter of focus. In that case, this week provides a sizeable test.
The crowd factor: When Pelini leads the Huskers from the tunnel before kickoff, there's no doubt the vast majority of the 91,000 in attendance will show their support for the coach. It’s been a tough week for Pelini, but he’s actually emerged from it remarkably well. If the Huskers start slow, though, look out. Patience for the coach and his team might wane quickly -- not so much because of the controversy this week but instead over the frustration that remains from UCLA and other recent disappointing performances.