LINCOLN, Neb. – The timing couldn't be better for South Dakota State.
The Jackrabbits visit Nebraska on Saturday for a game with a host of potential distractions.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a 20-point loss to UCLA in a game they led by 18 late in the second quarter. It was the Huskers' biggest blown lead at home since 1920. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has worn a walking boot on his left foot this week and might not play.
Off the field, coach Bo Pelini snapped at former Huskers great Tommie Frazier, who tweeted that Pelini should fire his defensive assistants.
Oh, and then there's that matter of the leaked 2-year-old audio of Pelini's profane rant about the fans and two sports writers during what the coach thought was a private conversation.
"I try to forget it," South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said. "What those things do is distract you as a football program or give you a false sense that they're going to be distracted. My job is to make sure we're focused and make sure our coaches put our players in position to have success."
South Dakota State (3-0), ranked No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision, isn't going to be satisfied with collecting its $395,000 paycheck and going home.
The Jackrabbits came to Lincoln in 2010 and played a sixth-ranked Huskers team to within 17-3. SDSU was stopped on a fourth-and-goal at the Nebraska 1, had an interception return for a touchdown called back for an illegal block and had a pass intercepted at the Nebraska 1.
"That was a tough loss," said senior cornerback Winston Wright, who was making his first start for the Jacks that night. "I was young on the team, and seeing the seniors and upperclassmen, they were really hurt. There were some things that didn't go our way. It hurt last time, and we're hoping to capitalize this time."
Stiegelmeier said he's bringing in a better team this time.
All-American Zach Zenner is the SDSU headliner. He leads FCS rushers with 180 yards a game after running for 2,000 yards last season. He went for 128 yards and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind win over Southeastern Louisiana last week. That was after he ran for 295 yards against North Dakota the week before.
"He runs hard, definitely more athletic than you would perceive him to be," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "He's able to make guys miss in short space and in the hole, but he also has the ability to put a shoulder down and run you over."
Offensive tackle Bryan Witzmann, who started the 2010 game, said he and his teammates love to play FBS schools that overlooked them in recruiting.
"It's a little extra motivation to kind of shove it back at them and say, 'This is what we made of ourselves,' " Witzmann said. "I really think FBS-FCS, it's about depth. We have the talent here. We don't have as much depth."
The Jacks are 0-5 against the FBS since elevating their program from Division II in 2004. What the Jacks lack in depth, they'll make up for in chutzpa, Papuchis said.
"We saw that the first time we played them," he said. "They certainly came with a little chip on their shoulder. They were kind of in that something-to-prove mentality. They were scrappy and tough and they were here for a fight, and our guys better be ready to be in for a fight Saturday."
Wright doesn't expect anything less.
"You can look at it two ways, thinking they're beat up and maybe a little tired," he said. "But their backs might be against the wall right now, and the last thing they need is to lose to a I-AA school. I see them coming out hungry. I don't see them taking us lightly."