LINCOLN — Nebraska linebacker Zaire Anderson — whom coaches said had one of the strongest spring camps — had little playing time in NU's season-opening win over Wyoming. He didn't like it, and put in more prep time for the Southern Mississippi game. Heading into Saturday's game with UCLA, Anderson expects to have a bigger role.
“I'm playing a bunch in the UCLA game,” Anderson said. “We're just competing through the week, me and Nate.”
That'd be true freshman Nathan Gerry, the safety who was turned into a dime linebacker against Wyoming and Southern Miss. He played far more snaps in both games, although Anderson played some against the Golden Eagles.
Anderson said UCLA will likely be more committed to running the ball than Wyoming needed to be or Southern Miss chose to be, which means he's more likely to play.
“I'm more of a run stopper,” Anderson said. “This game this week is a little better. We don't have to cover as much as linebackers. We'll let the secondary do more of that. I think I'll have a huge role this game.”
Anderson chose to “focus on the big picture” in Week 1, when he wasn't included in Nebraska's defensive plans for Wyoming. Gerry and senior corner Mo Seisay played instead, and the Huskers stopped neither the pass nor the run with any effectiveness.
“I know the team's going to need me down the line,” he said. “That's not my game, sticking to receivers ... another thing is, I started off slow in camp. But my role is picking up more. I'm doing a good job of executing the playbook.”
Linebackers coach Ross Els said Anderson responded well to sitting out because of a poor week of practice before the Cowboys game. Michael Rose went through the same issues, Els said, during the same week as Anderson.
“Zaire did a great job of studying really more than he ever has here,” Els said. “He did a lot more than what he's done. He's done the same thing this week, and that's why he'll play.”
As will sophomore David Santos, who slipped to the No. 3 Mike against Southern Mississippi and lost his Blackshirt after starting against Wyoming. Els said Santos responded well after the benching and has earned time in the rotation with Rose and Lincoln Southwest true freshman Josh Banderas.
Martinez won't surprise UCLA coach
Jim Mora is assuming that NU quarterback Taylor Martinez will make a few spectacular plays Saturday. The UCLA coach just hopes his guys are able to bounce back when it happens.
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Martinez had a 92-yard touchdown run against the Bruins in last season's game. That was a designed option run. It's Martinez's ability to improvise and keep plays alive that is most concerning for Mora.
“(We) understand that there's a really, really strong likelihood that at some point he's going to break one or two,” Mora said. “You've got to be able to regroup and stay poised.”
The goal, Mora said, is to keep Martinez in the pocket. “Make him play quarterback,” Mora said.
What makes it tough is that Martinez never lets up, Mora said. It's the competitiveness of Martinez that Mora respects most about the senior quarterback.
“He never conceded a down (last year),” Mora said.
Bruins are 'early morning group'
Saturday's game will kick off at 9 a.m. on the California clock, but that shouldn't bother UCLA, Mora said.
His team lifted weights at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday. Practices are normally set for 7 a.m.
“We're an early morning group,” Mora said. “That'll help us adjust.”
Traveling across time zones isn't too out of the ordinary for this program, either. The Bruins opened at Rice last year, played at Houston in 2011, took trips to Kansas State and Texas in 2010 and battled Tennessee in Knoxville the season before that.
Papuchis happy 6-7 Fauria is gone
One Bruin who Nebraska won't plan on seeing Saturday: former UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria, who caught two touchdowns against the Huskers last year.
The 6-foot-7 Fauria — who often worked out of the slot for UCLA and caught 12 touchdowns, nine more than any other Bruin — made his NFL debut with three catches and a touchdown for the Detroit Lions.
NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis is happy to see Fauria gone, but expects UCLA will use some other player to serve as quarterback Brett Hundley's “security blanket.”
“They haven't changed that much,” Papuchis said. “We only have one game, but to me they're doing the same things. Now (Fauria) was a featured aspect of their offense. I think he was, on some levels, a comfort for the quarterback — a guy he could go to when he knew he needed a play — but they have so many good skill guys that I'm sure someone else has emerged in that role.”
UCLA's young O-line 'pretty intense'
Four of UCLA's five offensive linemen expected to start Saturday are underclassmen. But they don't play like it, said NU players and coaches.
Junior left guard Xavier Su'a Filo, a third-team AP All-American, is the only Bruin up front who's had more than one year of experience. But the three sophomores all started last season. UCLA has two true freshmen listed at the top of its depth chart at right guard.
But those guys are relentless, NU defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said.
“They're going to make contact and they're going to keep their legs driving, and then once you're on the ground, they're going to dig you into the ground,” he said.
Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine noticed the same thing through film study.
“They like to come at you,” he said. “They're pretty intense.”
Huskers scheming for WR Evans
Nebraska assistant coach Terry Joseph called UCLA senior Shaquelle Evans a “dynamic” receiver and said different Huskers will have to deal with him at different times.
The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder started the season with six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown against Nevada. Evans averaged 14.6 yards on his 60 catches a year ago, when he also had three touchdowns.
“A guy who really makes tough catches over the middle but he's also their home run guy,” Joseph said. “He does a good job and they move him around quite a bit, so we'll have some different people on him because of where he lines up.”
Punt team taking extra precautions
The threat of a blocked punt combined with UCLA's ability to return effectively will test Nebraska on Saturday, Els said.
The Bruins blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown during their 58-20 win over Nevada to begin the season. They blocked three punts last year. No team had more than their eight combined blocked punts and kicks last season.
But UCLA can return those punts, too, Els said. That's what makes it tough.
“We have to keep doing different things in our punting game,” he said. “If we can keep them off-balance a little bit, I think we'll be all right.”
The Bruins averaged 9.2 yards per chance in 2012. “They'll come after some,” he said, “but probably they're more dangerous in the return game.”
Nebraska to face Troy in 2018
Nebraska has announced a football game against Troy University to be played in Lincoln in 2018.
The Trojans will come to Memorial Stadium on Sept. 15, 2018, marking the fifth time Troy has visited. Nebraska and Troy previously met in Lincoln four times between 2001 and 2006, with the Huskers winning each game.
The matchup is the second scheduled game on the Huskers' nonconference schedule. Nebraska plays Colorado the week before.
Ľ Senior Thad Randle, who limped off the field twice Saturday night, said he rolled an ankle against Southern Miss but he's back at full strength this week. He practiced Tuesday.
Ľ Papuchis said he intends to continue using a four-man pass rush as much as possible because it helps NU in coverage.
Ľ Grand Island walk-on Ryker Fyfe is serving as NU's scout team version of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley this week, while freshmen Adam Taylor and Graham Nabity are the primary scout team running backs.
Ľ I-back Imani Cross has enrolled another offensive player in his stay-after-practice routine: quarterback Johnny Stanton, who threw swing passes to Cross.
Ľ Husker defensive backs also stayed late, with Joseph working techniques for a second practice in a row.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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