LINCOLN — At times it won't seem right to Jeremiah Sirles on Saturday.
It'll be hard to trot out for Nebraska's first offensive series without Spencer Long, who has started the previous 33 games at right guard.
It'll be hard to look around a Husker huddle and not see No. 61, who rarely if ever came off the field until going down with a left knee injury at Purdue on Oct. 12.
But what can't happen — and won't happen, Sirles said — is for the NU line to lower expectations over the second half of the season without its All-America candidate.
“We have a standard that we're going to hold ourselves to as an offense and as an offensive line, and it doesn't matter if the entire second-string offensive line is in there,” said Sirles, the Huskers' senior starter at left tackle. “There's a set standard, and that's to be a dominant, physical offensive line and be able to run the football on anyone that lines up across from us.”
Nebraska will head to Minnesota ranking No. 10 nationally in rushing offense, with I-back Ameer Abdullah already having five 100-yard games. The front five also have played a big part in NU quarterbacks being sacked just three times all season, tied for the fewest by any FBS team.
Long was a big part of that success — and a leader on a tight-knit group — so his injury caused a moment of shock that NU assistant coach John Garrison said he could see in his players' eyes.
Garrison said the effort to overcome it, though, seemed to start right away.
“When the injury occurred on the field, it was an immediate reaction right then and there,” he said. “There was senior leadership right away, and Sirles is pointing to him and saying, 'Guys, we've got to play for him.' ”
Mike Moudy will make his first career start at Minnesota in Long's place at right guard. Ryne Reeves, a sophomore from Crete, Neb., and Givens Price, a sophomore from Houston, move a step up the ladder as backups, and NU coaches can move starting center Cole Pensick out to guard if they feel the need.
“We've got some young guys coming up and some guys that are ready to fill those roles,” Pensick said. “They know what's in front of them and they know what they need to do.”
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One priority is continuing to run the football effectively, which Sirles called a must in Big Ten play.
Nebraska has done it well so far with 284.8 yards per game and 5.5 per carry. But it has five teams remaining on its schedule that are allowing 125 rushing yards per game or fewer, including Minnesota.
Chemistry won't be an issue, Sirles said, because Moudy, Reeves and Price have all worked with the regulars at some point.
“I think all three of them understand this is a great opportunity,” Sirles said. “It's not exactly the way they wanted the opportunity to happen, by Spencer getting hurt, but that's part of the game. That's something you always have to be ready for.”
Garrison said it would “be ridiculous” to think that Nebraska won't be affected by losing its All-Big Ten guard.
Pensick said the effect would be on both a personal and performance level.
“We've got other senior guys in the group, other veteran guys, but it's tough missing one of your boys,” Pensick said. “The biggest thing might just be missing him.”
Sirles said he briefly had a tear in his eye as he watched Long on the ground in pain. He knew it wasn't good, and that the line had just been dealt a real dose of adversity.
“But I think we've done a really good job of coming even closer because of it, and finding ways to become a better unit because of it,” Sirles said.
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