UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: No culture shock for new kids on Big Ten block

FB_110801_Bielema_Bret.jpg

CHICAGO
-- If you were solely judging the speaker on his content, not his delivery, you would have had a hard time distinguishing between Nebraska's Bo Pelini and the UW's Bret Bielema.

"We're going to do what we do and we're going to do it well,'' the head coach said.

Was that Bielema talking about playing Badger football (aka "American football")?

Or was it the newbie on the Big Ten block, Pelini?

Here's the giveaway clue and quote.

"We're not really going to adapt what we do to the conference,'' the head coach went on. "We're going to hopefully make the conference adapt to what we do.''

The head coach? Pelini, who's far less animated at the podium than on the sidelines.

Bielema could have expressed the same sentiments, though. That's the point.

"There are a ton of similarities, not only in the culture but also in the style of play,'' Nebraska's All-World defensive lineman Jared Crick was saying here last week at the Big Ten Media Days.

Crick was connecting the dots between the two league programs that answer to the Big Red. And he was also envisioning a memorable "fight'' when they clash in the Oct. 1 Big Ten opener.

"I just know that it's going to be crazy there,'' Crick said of Madison and Camp Randall Stadium. "It's going to come down to who wants it the most that night.

"I'm confident in my guys and I'm confident that they're going to come at us with their best game. It's going to be a fight, but it's going to be fun.

"They love to run the football. They're a smash-mouth style of offense and defense -- which is what they pride themselves on and what we pride ourselves on.''

Asked to elaborate on Husker football, Crick said, "We're definitely smash-mouth but also fast. Our style of defense is an athletic defense and our style of offense is turning into an athletic offense.

"But we're also going to hit you. It's an athletic, smash-mouth style, which maybe differs from the past when we were just smash-mouth. We have better athletes now and better weapons.

"We're going to utilize that, but keep the principal of a being a blue collar team.''

The Huskers, under Pelini, have been a dominant team on defense; a Pelini trademark.

"We feel like we can line up and play against anybody in the country,'' Pelini said in Chicago. And he wasn't just talking about the Blackshirt defense, either.

"We're going to do our thing. We're going to play our way. Obviously you have to make some adjustments according to who you're playing in a particular week.

"But we feel like our style -- the type of kids we recruit, the type of football team we put on the field - can fit into any conference.''

That could have been echoed by any number of coaches, including Bielema.

Regarding the adjustment factor to Big Ten offenses, Crick said, "We're not going to change a thing. We're going to do some things different. We've done things different every single year.''

His point? "We're a versatile defense and that's going to help us out,'' he said.

The Huskers will tweak their defensive scheme to accommodate for more rushing teams. In the Big 12, they routinely substituted defensive backs for linebackers against some of the spread offenses.

That often left Lavonte David as the only linebacker on the field. That was reflected in his production, too. David set a single-season school record with 152 tackles.

"A lot of the guys in our locker room, the defensive guys,'' said David, who also was in Chicago last week, "are looking forward to the physical style of play that the Big Ten has.''

Crick doesn't think it will be that big of a change.

"It's nothing we haven't prepared for before,'' he said. "It's not like we're seeing a whole new scheme, a whole new style of offense. We've gone against it before, we've prepared against it before.''

The 285-pound Crick has the versatility to play inside or on the edge of the defense.

"It's not new to me, I've been playing end since my freshman year, it's my second home,'' said Crick who admitted the Huskers might have caught Missouri off-guard with their "30'' front.

"Playing at end definitely shocked them (the Tigers). Hopefully it shocks a lot more people. You feel a lot more freedom at end because you can beat them outside or you can counter inside.

"At the end spot, you just go get'em. That's going to be the coolest thing if coach wants to put me at end this year. It will give me the freedom to do anything I want with my pass rush mentality.''

Pelini, a former Packers assistant, is no stranger to the Madison culture or Camp Randall.

Not only did he play safety at Ohio State in the late '80s, but he was a graduate assistant coach at Iowa in 1991. Bielema was then a junior and starting nose guard for Hayden Fry.

"Is the style of play a little bit different? In some ways, yes; in some ways, no,'' Pelini said of the perceived differences between the Big 12 and Big Ten. "Football is football.

"You're going to win by the basics, the fundamentals. If you're good at those things, you're going to win football games, no matter who you're playing, no matter what conference you're in."
ON WISCONSIN