Idaho State’s young season has consisted of two football games that have been exciting and emotional for two distinct reasons.
The Bengals traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo. in the opener to face Air Force. The passion and thrill that comes with playing a service academy certainly had a role in how the team performed in a 49-21 loss.
Seven days later Idaho State opened its 2012 home campaign with a 38-5 pasting of Black Hills State in front of a loud pack of Bengal fans. The electric atmosphere inside Holt Arena was tremendous and overwhelming.
It would be understandable for Idaho State’s players and head coach Mike Kramer to be short on energy and enthusiasm for their next opponent, Nebraska of the Big Ten Conference in a game held at the impressive Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Fortunately for this group of Bengals, that won’t be the case.
“We’re so frightfully young that we get fired up to play anybody,” Kramer said. “We get fired up to play ourselves.”
ISU (1-1) will take on the Cornhuskers in front of 81,091 rabid fans as Nebraska has sold out Memorial Stadium 320 consecutive times.
Saturday should make it 321 straight.
“Going into kind of a hostile environment on the road, it’s something you look forward to,” said redshirt junior safety Tanner Davis.
Even more important than what happens in the stands will be who is wearing pads on the field.
Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez leads a potent Cornhusker offense that is averaging 40 points per game through three contests. The 6-foot-1, 200 lb. native of Corona, Calif. is by definition a dual threat playmaker.
“With any team you cannot allow big plays, and a lot of big plays with the Cornhuskers come via Taylor’s feet,” Kramer said. “And they also come now via his pass because his passing is pretty much improved.”
Martinez has carried the ball 30 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Through the air, he is 56-of-79 with 713 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He has led Nebraska to a 2-1 record with its only loss coming at UCLA on Sept. 8, a game where the Cornhuskers’ offense still put 30 points on the scoreboard.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just having good eyes because I have two jobs. I have to play run and pass,” Davis said of what his duties will be against Nebraska. “So having good eyes is a big key for that and also just getting yourself mentally prepared to play against guys that aren’t Big Sky level.”
Martinez and co. are known for wearing defenses down and making big plays, something Kramer would like to see his team avoid while making some of its own.
“We love to see our offense get big plays, but defensively the first thing you always have to do is prevent the cheap and the easy and the long, big play,” he said. “We just can’t allow their I-back to run downhill and pound us off the ball. That’s just one of the many facets we have to make sure we try to hang on to and not allow the big play to be a big factor in that game.”
Kramer expects his team will be as excited on Saturday as any of its previous two contests. Regardless of who the opponent is, the Bengals won’t get caught up in the moment.
“It’s not who we play, but it’s how we play for ourselves and we try to not focus on anybody we’re playing against,” Kramer said. “We have so much to prove, we have to always play the man in the mirror, which is ourselves, every game.”
The players are looking to gain valuable experience against a team as talented and storied as the Cornhuskers.
“I think the test at Nebraska will help us because you play an offense like that and you play against that type of caliber of players and then you go into conference play saying ‘we’ve played against these guys. We can hang with them,’” Davis said. “You take that confidence, especially for our defense where we’re kind of younger, and you just have to build off that.”
Contrary to the popular belief that coaches and players dread having these types of games on their schedule, Kramer sees a host of potential benefits for his team.
“Every kid in the United States digging through the television for an opportunity to watch a team play on television gets to watch us play against Nebraska,” he said. “That's why we want to be associated with these teams. We want to play at their level, we want to play how they're going to play (and) we want our guys to sense that they belong on the same field.”
Kickoff for the game on Saturday, which can be seen on the Big Ten Network, is at 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time.
“It's important for us because our guys graduate from high school all thinking that we can play at that level anyhow,” Kramer said of the opportunity for the Bengals. “I don't think any of us will be afraid.”