When Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown talked to the team this week about the difference between doubt and faith, Brenden Stai said it made him flash back to 1994.
Stai, now a Husker football intern, was a senior offensive guard during a season in which NU fought through injuries to quarterbacks Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer, yet remained on track during a national championship run.
In some ways, Stai told a Big Red Breakfast crowd Friday, there are parallels with this Nebraska team that is without starting quarterback Taylor Martinez and has taken numerous injury hits to its offensive line.
“It was interesting across the board with that (1994) team, the calmness that settled in,” Stai said. “Guys stepped up where they needed to step up. It was very similar to what’s happening to us now. We’ve got guys on this team that are stepping up.”
Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) again will start redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong at quarterback Saturday when it takes on Michigan State at Memorial Stadium. It will piece together whatever it can on its offensive line after losing four players to injury in the past five weeks.
“Offensively we’ve gone through our share of ups and downs,” Stai said. “Going into the season, if I would have told you that Taylor wouldn’t be starting for us going into the Michigan game and this big game with Michigan State, right there a lot of people would have said our season was gone.”
Back in ’94, Stai said there was “always this sense of confidence that exuded” from former head coach Tom Osborne that gave his players the faith to keep pushing forward — even when Osborne sat the team down and told them about Frazier and his problem with blood clots.
That came to mind as he listened to Brown this week, Stai told a crowd of 150 at the Ramada Plaza Omaha Hotel and Convention Center.
“Faith doesn’t come out of thin air,” Stai said. “Faith comes from experience. Faith comes from being confident and trusting the one to your left and to your right.
“So offensively and defensively I think that’s where we’re at right now, and it’s our opportunity now to really put ourselves back on that board and let everyone know we’re a great team.”
Nebraska can control its own destiny in the Legends Division with a win over Michigan State. The Spartans (8-1, 5-0) can eliminate every team but Minnesota from the Legends race with a win.
“They’re coming into our place and they’ve got everything to lose,” Stai said. “There’s more pressure on them right now than there is on us.”
Some other breakfast bites from Stai:
Ľ On the MSU defense that leads the nation in rushing defense (43.2 yards per game) and total defense (210.2), and ranks third in scoring defense (11.6 points per game): “It’s incredible the numbers that they’re putting up.”
Ľ NU has put together late game-winning drives to beat Northwestern and Michigan, and Stai said the Hail Mary against the Wildcats was huge: “Imagine if we lost that game what the court of public opinion would have been saying about Coach (Bo) Pelini and this team and where we’re going.”
Ľ Stai said there’s always on-field chatter with Michigan State: “Lot of talking. Lot of talking. Once you get up on Michigan State, they stop the chirping.”
Ľ As he showed the replay of the winning touchdown at Michigan, Stai joked that Armstrong has driven offensive coordinator Tim Beck crazy a few times by hesitating on his pitch on the sprint option: “He almost has an uncanny sense of trying to feel out the defender and the way he’s playing.”
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Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini discusses the Michigan State game: