LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska has made it through non-conference play unbeaten for the first time in three years. Rest assured, no one in the Cornhuskers' camp is celebrating.
The 21st-ranked Huskers (4-0) have endured embarrassing losses at least once in each of Bo Pelini's first six seasons. That is in the backs of their minds — and, no doubt, the fans' — as they go into Big Ten play this week against Illinois (3-1).
"Any given week, anything can happen," running back Ameer Abdullah said. "We have had good years where we have lost to some teams that we probably should've beat and some weeks where we beat a good team that we weren't as talented as. Don't believe the hype, don't buy in to anything you hear. Don't think that just because things are going well for you now that you can't hit rock bottom at any point."
Nebraska hammered Miami for 343 yards rushing in a 41-31 victory on Saturday, with Abdullah running for 229 yards on a career-high 35 carries and accounting for three touchdowns.
But the glass-half-empty outlook largely is the product of three games that left the Huskers red-faced a year ago — a huge blown lead in a home loss to UCLA, a road loss to Minnesota and a home loss to Iowa.
So far this season the Huskers have been impressive, especially on offense, outside a close call against FCS McNeese State in the second game.
The Huskers are among the top 10 teams nationally in total offense and scoring, but the Miami game exposed issues on the other side of the ball.
The linebackers were shaky and the secondary was soft at times. Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya passed for a career-high 359 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Clive Walford was able to get open for a team-leading seven catches for 80 yards, and running back Duke Johnson caught five balls for 84 yards.
Nebraska starting middle linebacker Josh Banderas seemed a step slow in the open field and was run over by Johnson a handful of times. He was replaced by Trevor Roach late in the third quarter.
"We missed some tackles and we didn't play well underneath," Pelini said. "We got beat a few times. There are some things we didn't adjust to very well.
"But we've got some young guys in there, too. It wasn't a wholesale thing. Believe me, I'm not pushing the panic button as far as that's concerned. Trust me, I like what this defense can be."
There were a couple bright spots. Linebacker David Santos made a diving interception in the first half and had 10 tackles. Roach, on his first play after Banderas left, stripped the ball from Johnson and cornerback Josh Mitchell ran it back 57 yards for a touchdown.
The Huskers aren't deep at linebacker, especially after Michael Rose went out in the preseason with a torn ACL. Rose, the unit's best run stopper in the middle, will be missed against physical Big Ten running backs. A huge test comes in two weeks at Michigan State and Jeremy Langford.
"We're 4-0. That's the important thing," Santos said. "It's conference play and the tempo has to pick up. We're on a mission, obviously, to win the Big Ten championship."