Most of the details of his introduction to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., didn’t stick. Nate Enderle isn’t sure how old he was when he first went, or how often his family journeyed from the central part of the state – 230 miles away – to see the Cornhuskers after that.
But Idaho’s senior quarterback still remembers Nebraska’s opponent on that initial visit: Daunte Culpepper-led Central Florida.
It was almost exactly 13 years ago that Culpepper, the stud quarterback of 40-point underdog UCF, guided his team to a stunning halftime lead before absorbing a two-touchdown loss to the eventual national-champion Cornhuskers.
Today Enderle returns to Lincoln, this time as a quiet standout for the Vandals looking to make a similar impression on the 81,000-plus at Memorial Stadium.
Idaho, a 28-point underdog, will clash with sixth-ranked Nebraska at 9:30 a.m. PDT. This is the first meeting between programs with much different football histories.
The Cornhuskers, five-time national champs and riding a streak of 306 consecutive home sellouts after today, are in their last year in the Big 12 Conference before moving to the Big Ten.
The Vandals, winners of two Humanitarian Bowl trophies since vaulting from Division I-AA in 1996, are members of the soon-to-be slimmed-down Western Athletic Conference.
No one on Idaho’s roster is more aware of the differences between the two schools than Enderle. He was raised in North Platte, Neb., and was courted late by then-NU coach Bill Callahan.
By the time Callahan and his staff approached Enderle, he had enrolled at UI a semester early and saw no need to ditch the Vandals.
“Certainly he understands the atmosphere (in Lincoln),” Vandals coach Robb Akey said. “He understands there’s one team and only one team that matters in the entire universe of football coming out of the state of Nebraska, and that is Nebraska. They are the NFL, they are everything.”
Before preparations for the Cornhuskers began, Akey spoke with Enderle about not getting overly amped up for a return to his home state. Yet Akey acknowledged his talk with the always-steady Enderle only took place because “that’s my job as head football coach.”
“I don’t believe for a minute that’s the way Nate Enderle is going to be,” Akey said.
If anything, today’s nonconference matchup will be a barometer of how much the Vandals have progressed in the last year-plus. They collected eight wins last year and drubbed North Dakota in their opener last week, but have yet to topple or even threaten a highly regarded opponent in that time.
“I’m sure they view it as a good tune-up game to go into their season,” senior safety Shiloh Keo said, “and that’s a big thing for us – a big chip on our shoulders. We want to go in there and make a statement, not to just to ourselves, to Vandal Nation.”
A key to keeping NU’s offense in check will be how UI handles prized redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez. He rushed for 127 yards in his debut last week while garnering praise from coach Bo Pelini for his “steady, mature approach.”
UI has been torched by shifty dual-threat quarterbacks in recent years, most notably Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.
“This guy is good, just like Kaepernick is a very good player,” Akey said. “There are a lot of similarities there, and this guy really lit the place up (last week).”
Another concern is providing quality protection for Enderle against an NU defense that ranked second nationally last year in sacks. The Vandals surrendered four sacks in the first half last week before resolving alignment and communication problems between four new starters along the offensive line.
“It’s part of growing up, it’s part of gaining experience,” Akey said. “And fortunately that happened against (North Dakota). Hopefully, we won’t let any of these guys from Nebraska come running free because they’re a little bigger, faster. It’s going to hurt more.”