LINCOLN — Spencer Long and Cole Pensick were never sure what to think — they honestly don't remember pondering it much at the time — but the change obviously turned out to do them good.
Long, a walk-on from Elkhorn, and Pensick, a scholarship recruit from Lincoln Northeast, spent the 2009 season as scout-team defensive linemen. The Nebraska staff then came to them with the idea of crossing over to the offensive line before the next spring.
“At the time, (it was) wherever the coaches thought was best,” Pensick said. “I just wanted to get on the field. I just wanted to play.”
“It just kind of happened,” Long said.
Today Long is a third-year starter at right guard, playing next to Pensick, the Huskers' starting center.
Long, a second-team All-American last season, said he didn't ask many questions when the move was suggested. He didn't even ask if plans were for it to be permanent.
“It's kind of what you've got to do as a walk-on,” he said. “I listened to them, and it turned out great for me. I owe a lot to Coach G.”
Coach G is NU assistant John Garrison, who was working with the scout-team defensive line in 2009 and getting a feel for what Long and Pensick were all about. Unknown to him at the time was that he would become the Huskers' offensive line coach shortly after the players changed positions.
But Garrison said he thought they both had good athleticism, great footwork and played with their hands well — traits that would benefit them on the offensive side.
Could Garrison predict that the two would be anchoring the middle of the Huskers' offensive line right now?
“I knew it was going to happen,” he said, smiling. “We just needed some time to work with them.”
McMullen tunes out crowd, finds a way to contribute
Nebraska defensive end Greg McMullen joked with friends before the season about how he might react playing in front of his first Memorial Stadium sellouts. Would he be scared? Nervous? Feed off it?
Turns out that the redshirt freshman hardly seemed to notice at all in games against Wyoming and Southern Mississippi. Once he looked over and could find assistant coach Rick Kaczenski on the sideline and was comfortable getting the call, he just lined up and got “zoned in.”
“I get out there for the first snap and I'm like, 92,000 people, they don't exist,” he said. “I need to focus on what I need to do.”
McMullen has played about 30 snaps in both games as NU utilizes a four-man rotation at defensive end, where it also has Jason Ankrah, Randy Gregory and Avery Moss. The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder from Akron, Ohio, said he just wanted to give it his all in fall camp and see what it got him.
“So when I played 30 snaps in both games, I'm excited,” he said. “And if I play 30 more versus UCLA, or if I play less, I'm going to still be happy, because I know I'm contributing in some way.”
Pass protection must improve Saturday, Garrison says
Garrison's assessment of Nebraska's pass protection so far is that “it can be better,” even though the Huskers have allowed no sacks and just two quarterback hurries. But this will be a bigger week for the front five as it tries to protect quarterback Taylor Martinez against a talented UCLA defensive front.
“We've got to be perfect,” Garrison said. “We've got to keep him clean. We've got to keep him from taking shots, any pressures. Not just sacks, but pressures or hits. Those obviously build up on a quarterback, and there have been a few of those.”
Garrison said UCLA's edge rushers have “tremendous speed and physicality.” The Bruins' inside guys can press the pocket.
“So this is going to be a great challenge for us,” he said.
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Video: Big Ten Preview Show, Sept. 11
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