LINCOLN — Nebraska assistant coach Terry Joseph contends that he wouldn't even know the statistic if people didn't bring it up. It's a stat that the Husker staff won't break down until after the season.
NU is allowing opponents to complete just 46.4 percent of their passes, best among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
During the Huskers' four-game winning streak, no opponent has completed 50 percent of its passes. Penn State went 18 of 37, Michigan State 9 of 27, Michigan 9 of 27 and Northwestern 16 of 37. The only Big Ten opponent to complete better than 50 percent of its throws was Wisconsin (15 of 28).
How has it happened?
“Basically what we're trying to do defensively, especially on the back end, is we want to challenge every throw,” said Joseph, NU's secondary coach. “And that means that we want to make them work for every completion that they get. So if we can put bodies on bodies and we can be in the right spot, we're going to be there to challenge the throw. But we still got to finish.”
Joseph said the credit doesn't go solely to the secondary. The low number also is the byproduct of the Huskers' pass rush and the linebackers' work on underneath coverages.
“It goes to the whole defense that we're in the right spots a lot more, and I think that's why we're having a little bit more success,” he said. “But I still think we have a little ways to go to get there.”
Gray dangerous from new position
A year ago, Nebraska was defending MarQueis Gray as a physical running threat at quarterback in the Minnesota offense.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior will be a different kind of challenge Saturday now that he is lining up at receiver.
“He'll be a hard matchup,” Joseph said. “He uses his body and his body position like a basketball player, especially inside the red zone. They'll probably want to throw the fades to him, and he's going to try to box us out and turn it into a jump ball.”
Gray started the season at quarterback before injuries led Gophers coach Jerry Kill to move him to receiver, where he has 12 receptions for 121 yards. Minnesota is now starting freshman Philip Nelson at quarterback.
Fisher: Marlowe would be good coach
Tim Marlowe has said he might like to get into coaching, and NU assistant Rich Fisher said Wednesday that the receiver definitely would be a good fit.
“I'd hire him in a heartbeat,” Fisher said.
As a player, Fisher said, Marlowe brings toughness, attitude, work ethic, intelligence and football IQ to the Husker receiving corps and “maximizes everything that he does.”
Marlowe will be among 29 seniors playing their final home game Saturday, but he's been limited this season because of collarbone and shoulder injuries.
“I know it's not the senior year that he had hoped it'd be,” Fisher said, “but I would take a million Timmy Marlowes because you know exactly what you're going to get.”
Cotton doesn't expect sentimental finale
Nebraska assistant Barney Cotton still isn't quite sure where he'll be inside Memorial Stadium when his son, tight end Ben Cotton, is introduced for Senior Day. NU's offensive line coach is normally stationed with offensive coordinator Tim Beck in the press box. But he'd like to be on the field to receive Ben.
“I don't even know the timeline of it,” Barney said. “I hope that I'll be able to do it. I'm going to try to pull it off. I'm going to have to look at the schedule.”
The coach knows that the finality of Ben's NU career won't hit either of them Saturday, but when the season is actually over, after a bowl game.
“When I was a senior, I didn't really think it was over until I got on the bus for the last time,” Barney said. “As competitive as (Ben) is, I imagine that's the way he's going to look at it. We haven't even mentioned anything to each other yet about it.”
Barney, who finished his Husker career at the 1979 Orange Bowl, saw NU offensive line coach Cletus Fischer as he boarded the bus.
“I broke down into a massive sob because all of the sudden, it was over,” Barney said. “And I didn't even think about it being over until I walked out of the locker room.”
Line rotation helps keep players fresh
Cotton said Nebraska's ability to play a seven-man rotation on its offensive line all season — the first time, Cotton said, since 2008 — has helped with wear and tear.
“We've always had intentions of playing more guys — and even gotten more flak for not playing more guys — but injuries take their toll and you end up playing five guys,” Cotton said. “But this year we've been very fortunate.”
The rotation has also been a boon to NU's fourth-quarter play, Cotton said.
“You're able to freshen up a guy,” Cotton said.
Order postseason tickets by Friday
Priority order forms for Nebraska postseason football tickets are due at 5 p.m. Friday, according to Holly Adam, Nebraska's assistant athletic director for tickets. Last week, NU sent out via email forms to Husker Athletic Fund donors and season ticket holders. Tickets for the Big Ten Championship and bowl game can be reserved with a credit card that won't be charged unless the games come to pass.
“Requests from non-donor season ticket holders will be selected based on the timing of the receipt of the order,” Adam told Huskers.com.
Any tickets not reserved by Nov. 16 will be put on sale to the general public should NU qualify for the Big Ten title game.
— Rich Kaipust and Sam McKewon