LINCOLN — There are expected to be a couple new faces at one of Nebraska's linebacker positions, but it's unclear how much the improving duo will see the field.
Junior Zaire Anderson and redshirt freshman David Santos both took first-team reps this week at the Huskers' “Will” linebacker spot, the position most recently held by Alonzo Whaley. Coach Bo Pelini said Anderson, a junior college transfer, and Santos both practiced well.
Preparing for unfamiliar offenses, which NU had to do during the season's first two weeks, is always difficult for inexperienced players, Pelini said. Anderson and Santos have apparently improved enough to get a chance.
But against the spread-based Arkansas State offense, Nebraska may not call on its linebackers very often. And it can be difficult sometimes for the coaching staff to rotate at the linebacker spot, Pelini said.
Pelini said neither Anderson nor Santos has separated himself in the position battle. The plan is to play a “combination of both” on Saturday, Pelini said.
“They've grown a lot over the last couple weeks of preparation, even though they haven't gotten a lot of game snaps in,” Pelini said. “But they've been preparing themselves. They'll get their opportunity on Saturday.”
Burkhead is doubtful
Senior I-back Rex Burkhead won't play again until he's 100 percent healthy, and as of Thursday his status is doubtful for Saturday's game, Pelini said.
Burkhead, recovering from an MCL sprain suffered in the season opener, will still be evaluated up until the 11 a.m. kickoff against Arkansas State.
“I want to make sure he's absolutely 100 percent before we put him back out there,” Pelini said.
In other injury news, cornerback Mo Seisay (ankle) is healthier this week than last, which has allowed him to get an adequate amount of reps in practice, Pelini said.
“He's a lot more ready to play,” Pelini said.
Senior defensive end Eric Martin, who limped off the field at UCLA Saturday, is “fine,” Pelini said.
Working on low snaps
Senior center Justin Jackson had a few low snaps to Taylor Martinez when the quarterback was lined up in the shotgun at UCLA Saturday.
One of the low snaps led to a 16-yard loss on Nebraska's final offensive play before halftime, though kicker Brett Maher still made a 54-yard field goal to tie the game.
It's something that Jackson's been working on, and he's been more consistent this week, Pelini said.
“One's too many as far as I'm concerned,” Pelini said. “He knows that. He's a prideful guy. He'll fix it.”
Adjusting to Malzahn
Pelini has coached against Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn before and Nebraska has two weeks' worth of game film to study, but there will still be some surprises Saturday.
That's what Pelini expects, anyway.
As the defensive coordinator at LSU, Pelini once faced off against Malzahn, then the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. The Tigers won that 2006 game 31-26.
Aspects of that system and the one Malzahn ran while at Auburn will likely show up Saturday, Pelini said. And probably more unknown elements, too.
“We're just going to have to kind of wait and see,” Pelini said. “I'm not real sure what we're going to see. We're going to have to make our adjustments on the run.”
Big payday for ASU
Nebraska is paying Arkansas State $1 million for playing at Memorial Stadium on Saturday — the highest amount ever guaranteed to an opponent for a game in Lincoln.
Athletic Director Tom Osborne said Thursday in an email to the Associated Press that the price is the “going rate” for many teams to play an away game with no return engagement.
“We believe that Arkansas State is a decent program and will provide an attractive nonconference matchup,” Osborne said. “We probably could have gotten a lesser opponent for less money but are trying to maintain a reasonably strong schedule.”
Nebraska paid Southern Mississippi $300,000 for the Sept. 1 opener, but the Huskers will play an away game against the Golden Eagles next year. Idaho State, a Football Championship Subdivision program, will earn $600,000 for visiting next week.
The previous high guarantee paid by Nebraska was $800,000, to Western Kentucky and Idaho in 2010, and to San Jose State in 2008. Arkansas State was paid $750,000 for playing at Nebraska in 2009.
With the playoff system beginning in 2014, Osborne said, teams with national championship hopes will be willing to pay big money for games that can build their schedule strength.
— Jon Nyatawa and the Associated Press