Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride coached through some blowouts in his time at Nebraska. The Huskers put up more than 800 yards against New Mexico State in 1982 in a 68-0 win and 84 points on Minnesota in 1983. There was the 71-14 win over Colorado State in 1991 and the 65-9 win over the Rams again in 1996. That’s without even dipping into the lower division opponents like Nebraska will face this Saturday.
On Wednesday, as he does every week, the former Nebraska defensive coordinator visited with hosts Chris Schmidt and Nick Handley on Hail Varsity Radio to talk about coaching against overmatched opponents, the importance of linebackers, and Nebraska’s switch to the 4-3 defense in the early-1990s.
HV: What was your reaction to Bo Pelini’s health scare last week?
McBride: At the time it happened, it was unnerving. I wasn’t able to find anything out so I ended up calling Tom (Osborne) a little later on. I knew if I called too early it wasn’t going to do any good.
It is upsetting for the players but I think maybe the players might have put a little more effort into it. They continued their effort and that’s the important thing.
HV: How do you use this week to your advantage when you have a game that nobody really wants on the schedule?
McBride: You can lay an egg, that’s for sure. They’re going to practice hard no matter who they’re playing. This will be a good time and a good learning experience for the players. Winning the game is important but, at this time, honing in on schemes, both offensively and defensively, is probably the most important thing.
HV: As a former coach, did you find yourself doing more teaching in games like this?
McBride: If you get a comfortable lead, the thing you want to watch is that the players don’t relax. That the young players learn that when they’re on the field they’re representing each other, their team, and everything else. It’s really important that they don’t play relaxed football.
When you start loafing around and doing things like that, you’re looking for an injury. It’s really important to these young kids that they keep the pressure on.
HV: Without Zaire Anderson, does Nebraska need its linebackers to step up more or is the development of the defensive line still a priority?
McBride: A lot of it depends on the scheme but the linebackers, of course, are really the heart of your defense, in stopping both the run and the pass too. Most defensive coordinators really want to stop the run first and (the linebackers) are really important.
The way our scheme was, we really tried to protect the linebackers as much as we could. If you have a penetrating defense of some kind then you really don’t have that opportunity to keep people off your linebackers. At that point your defensive line becomes very, very important.
For example, if we were blitzing and our guys were trying to hit gaps the linebackers weren’t going to be protected as well. If we were playing gap responsibilities we had a chance to get our hands on people and make it tough for them to get off on the linebackers, therefore giving the linebackers a chance to make the play. I always said to (the linemen) ‘We’re on scholarship too, so don’t be afraid to make a tackle.’
It’s a team thing. You can’t ever get away from one position or another. You can break down in different places and all it really takes is one guy and it can cause a problem.
HV: Do attitudes change when conference play starts?
McBride: I think there’s a little added edge there when you go into conference play. You win the conference you’re going to be playing for a national championship. You’re in the hunt.
From what I’m seeing right now in the Big Ten, if Nebraska continues on the path they’re on right now I’m really looking for some good things coming up. They’ve got Wisconsin at home and Michigan. It’s kind of a good schedule to have.
After this week, the players are going to really put their nose to grindstone a little bit better than maybe they have in the past. I think it becomes a little bit more important to everybody.
HV: In the early 1990s, you switched from a 5-2 to a more attacking 4-3 defense. Take us through some of the changes in scheme to get more speed on the field.
McBride: The transformation started because teams were getting away from option football. With the one back offenses coming in, teams were going to be more spread out and we definitely wanted to put more pressure on the quarterback.
I think with the kids, when you’re blitzing and things, they have fun. It just adds to the enthusiasm and you get some big plays. Of course, you live by the sword you got to remember you die by the sword too. You expect sometimes that a kid’s going to get beat deep. That’s just part of the game and part of the scheme we played.
What we did was recruited guys who had some speed and we turned down some good football players just because we didn’t think they could run well enough for the position. That takes a little time but we were fortunate to get some kids who had some great speed. Donta Jones, for example, and Trev Alberts, they were stand-up linebackers. Now they put the hand on the ground and, I promise you this, the offensive tackles weren’t real excited about that.
The two (defensive tackles) were really our strongest players. We weren’t as concerned on the outside, we just repped them a lot. They were able to play the run, read the backs, and read the guards depending on the situations. But again, by putting their hand on the ground we had two guys coming off the edge.
Our only true linebacker, really, was our middle linebacker…(Our outside linebackers) could run with our backs. We could cover with those guys and we didn’t really have to go to the dime as much. They could really fly so we didn’t have to do as much, there was less personnel changing on the field.
You can listen to the full interview with McBride, and all of the Hail Varsity Radio guests, in iTunes.
Hail Varsity Radio is on live in Lincoln (1480 AM) and Columbus (900 AM) from 4 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and Saturday’s from 7 to 9 a.m. in Omaha on 1620 AM.