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Chat wrap: OU rivalry means more this weekend

Nebraska offensive guard Russ Hochstein, a native of Harlington, Neb., visited the chat room on Tuesday to discuss the top-ranked Cornhuskers' visit to No. 3 Oklahoma this Saturday (ABC, 12 p.m. ET). Hochstein discussed this year's offensive line, Oklahoma's defense and Eric Crouch's Heisman candidacy.

Brian K.: Do you think the offensive line is currently playing at the highest level since you have been at Nebraska?

Russ Hochstein
Russ Hochstein and the Cornhuskers lead the nation with 379.7 yards rushing per game.
Russ Hochstein: That is a very tough one. We are playing very well as a unit right now. The only way we will be able to tell is by how we are plying at the end of the year. We will have to wait until then to check out the numbers. The 1997 team won the rushing title. We think we can always improve week by week.

Joe in Denver: There's been a lot of talk about the players-only meeting a couple of weeks ago that seemed to get the whole team to turn things up a notch or two. What exactly has changed since that meeting? What are you guys doing differently?

Russ Hochstein: We have gotten refocused. I was one of the players in there. We discussed some things. I think that the team has gotten refocused and went back to the old mentality that we need to go and practice every week with a great amount of intensity and fire in us. Really bash some heads during the week. I think it has really spilled over into the weekend by doing that. That refocusing is an important thing that every team needs to do about halfway through a season. I think it was a great time for us to do it. As you can see, we have played a lot better in all three phases of the game the past few weeks. It has paid off well for us.

Mark: Two questions, do you think this will end up as "game of the new century?" and how is the team preparing for a big game atmosphere which will be larger and louder than the game at Notre Dame?

Russ Hochstein: First, who knows? That is to be determined. You can't really predict that. I definitely think that there is a lot of talent and a lot of people that is going to be out there putting it all on the line. Both teams are loaded with talent. They will all be showcasing it on Saturday. It very well could be a big game and it definitely could go down as one of the better ones. That remains to be seen.

Second, we prepare very similar each week. When we are on the road, we do a lot of crowd noise stuff. We have a lot of crowd noise when we go through our drills and doing our reps. That prepares us for the noise when Eric Crouch audibles or changes the play. We are very well prepared in that aspect. We make sure that when the game is loud, like it was at Notre Dame, we watch the ball and everybody communicates with one another and gets their calls out by passing them down the line. It works well for us. We just have to continue to prepare like that. We love the loud crowds. It brings an emotional part to the game that is fun playing in, and makes it a great atmosphere.

Chase Cass: Is there one part of the OU defense that is a weak point and that you will try to take advantage of? 2) Who is the man at I-back or will coach Frank keep rotating the I-backs?

Russ Hochstein: I don't really see an overall weakness in any specific area. They have good speed on defense. Their linebackers flow very well. Their safeties come up and support the run very well. When you talk their secondary to their front four, they are pretty solid through the whole way. There isn't any specific area that we have noticed to be a weak spot. They play all the way around. They have good speed. They play physical. There isn't any weakness that I can pinpoint. They have good team speed. That's always going to be an advantage for a defense. But we have a great mobile line up front that can counteract that.

As far as the running backs go, I'm sure they will continue to do what we have done in the early part of the year. I am sure you will see a lot of different backs because we have a big stable of running backs that can run and run well. There probably won't be any change on that end of it because that is how we approach this game. It's business as usual for us. The rest will take care of itself.

Leah: Russ, being from Nebraska originally, you know all about the rivalry with Oklahoma. How important is this game to you, above staying undefeated?

Russ Hochstein: Of course we know about the traditions of the past, the days of Osborne and Switzer and their battles. We remember all those things. I don't think it is above just winning a game. At this time of the season and where everybody is ranked, and with us being in the title run, it is a game, and it's a must-win game for both ways. I'm sure they see it that way and we see it that way. The tradition comes with that because of the media and because of the fans because they look at it that way. But as far as players go, it is more of a must-win than tradition. When the game is over, that is when you can look back and say, 'Hey, that was a great game, this will go in the books.'

But until you win, you can't look at it that way. You have to go out and fight for the game and to win, otherwise, you get dashed a little bit in the rankings and that can take you out of a title hunt. It is a must-win and it is going to be a fun atmosphere. The tradition is there and it is going to be very much alive. I have heard it all over the town the last few days about the Sooners. They are bringing back the champs from the old years. Because we haven't played them in four years, it is going to be a new fun excitement that people feel around here. I am sure in Oklahoma they feel the same way.

robert: Oklahoma's defensive line is built on speed (265 pound average). How do you plan to handle smaller and faster lineman.

Russ Hochstein: The weight advantage can be a big issue at times, and a speed advantage can be big at times. First of all, the weight. When you are wearing a team down or when you are playing a very physical ballgame, late in the game, a team that is a little lighter can be worn down a little easier. But at the same token, a defensive line that is faster than the offensive line can wear an offensive line out. So it has its benefits on both ends of it. It is kind of a tossup. We can wear ourselves down chasing after them, or we can wear them down by beating on them a little bit. So there is not really an advantage. It's basically going to be about taking care of the ball, executing, and running our assignments right. That's how you move the ball and put points on the board. I think it's important for them to do the same. I'm sure their defensive line probably looks at it the same way. They need to shut us down, keep us from scoring points, and it will kind of work its way out to be neutral. We just have to execute and run our assignments, and we will probably be all right.

Nick: Russ, do you think Saturday's game will turn into a high-scoring shootout?

Russ Hochstein: I would say that strictly depends on the defenses. Oklahoma has a great passing attack, we have a great rushing attack. If both defenses come to play, which I am assuming that both will and pretty sure they will, I don't think it will be that high a scoring of a game. If we look back to K-State and Oklahoma, that wasn't that high a scoring game. This is a time when defenses are important. This is where you really test them. I don't really think it is going to be that high scoring of a game. But who knows. It is kind of unpredictable. It's kind of like, is this going to be a great game or not. You just don't know.

TFrazier10_21_2000: Should Eric Crouch be the Heisman winner?

Russ Hochstein: Just like anything else, that will take time to determine. I think he is definitely a candidate for it. I think he could be considered a front-runner for it. He shows that every week when he goes out and plays. He does things that any Heisman winner does. I definitely think he runs the offense very well. He makes plays. He passes the ball well, he runs the ball well. And he is just a tough kid and a great leader. When you talk Heisman, you are talking about someone like that. So I definitely think he should be a candidate and I definitely think he should be one of the front-runners for it.

1 Big Husker Fan: Is there a dramatic coaching difference between Coach Solich and Coach Osborne?

Russ Hochstein: No there is not. I have heard that one before. In the five years I have been here, nothing has hardly changed. Our coaching staff that is here now, the majority of them have coached under Coach Osborne, and Solich did as well. The program has been successful for the last 30 years. I don't think our coaches are about to change anything because of that. In turn, nothing has changed, and things go on as usual around here. We approach games the same way we always have. We prepare for them the same way we always have, and in the offseason, we do the same things.

In my recollection, there is no difference. People love to find out if there is, but there is no difference. Both are great guys to play for and both are great coaches.

tONEY: Russ, what pregame rituals if any do you or any members of the line have?

Russ Hochstein: Music. A lot of music, a lot of insane stuff. Things that are thrown on that I can't even understand. Some listen to some rap. There's a big variety of music. That's pretty general around the country.

It gets pretty detailed though. Some guys put on pads certain ways. Some guys eat the same foods before the game. Some guys wear the same clothes every game. There's little things that guys do before a game. Usually it comes down to a ritual guys have.

I am pretty general. I do the same thing each week too. I have a medal that I wear for every week for the game that was given to me when I was in high school. It is called a St. Sebastian medal. It's the patron saint of athletes and archers. I have been wearing that for a while for games. That's kind of my ritual on weekends.

Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the game this weekend.

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