Nebraska's concede-yards-not-points defensive approach last Saturday was the source of some consternation, but it probably didn't help Oregon any in preparing to face the Blackshirts. Whatever tricks this Nebraska defense may have are still very much up their sleeves.
The Ducks' defense handled Southern Utah as expected, holding the Thunderbirds to 4.24 yards per play and a 4-of-18 performance on third down while tallying five sacks.
Here are our three keys for each team on defense.
Brandon Vogel – HailVarsity.com
1. Here's what we know about Nebraska's run defense after one game – nothing. Content to take what the Huskers were giving, Arkansas State's run game consisted of nearly as many wide receiver screens as actual rushes. So can Nebraska handle Royce Freeman and the rest of the Duck runners? "There's a lot of window dressing that goes on, but they run the football and they run it well," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said of Willie Taggart's Oregon. "That's been a hallmark of his teams." That's putting it mildly. Over his last two seasons at South Florida, Taggart's Bulls topped 200 yards rushing in 23 of 26 games. The Huskers have to have some success slowing down the Oregon ground game, or nothing else might matter in this one.
2. Keep the big plays down, keep the points down. That seems to be the founding principle of a Diaco defense and it's logically sound, but can the Huskers execute it on Saturday? Few teams have been more explosive than Oregon in recent years. The Ducks have ranked in the top 15 nationally in 20-plus yard gains every year since 2013, and had 11 such gains last week. Arkansas State's attack tested the patience of Nebraska's young cornerbacks. Oregon's attack will test their overall ability. With the Ducks' big-play ability, the secondary doesn't just have to defend sideline to sideline, but also end zone to end zone. Mistakes get magnified against an offense like this, and Nebraska is still young at a couple of spots in a still-new defense.
3. While some of the numbers from last week can be explained away by the game plan, the one that's the toughest to dismiss is Nebraska's lack of success on third down. The Red Wolves converted 7-of-13 attempts (53.9 percent, 113th nationally). The Huskers have to be better this week. It's hard enough to get an Oregon offense into advantageous third-down situations. When Nebraska does, it has to win that battle more than half the time to get a win in Eugene.
Justin Hopkins – ScoopDuck.com
1. Oregon will need to hold the point of attack against a much stronger Nebraska team. The Ducks were effective in keeping Southern Utah from getting any sort of a consistent run game going. And outside of a couple of broken plays, they kept them in check. One of the keys to Nebraska's offensive philosophy will be to establish the run on first downs as Vogel pointed out yesterday. If Oregon wants to make it a lot harder for Nebraska to move the ball, they will need to limit the run game, especially on the early downs.
2. The Ducks need to figure out a way to create pressure on Tanner Lee and keep him from having all day to throw. The old saying, 'you live by the blitz, you die by the blitz' applies here. But in order for Oregon to help it's secondary from having to cover a talented group of receivers for 4 or 5 seconds, they will need to get pressure on Lee and force him to get the ball out of his hand before he's ready.
3. It's cliché to some, but the Ducks need to play mistake-free football. Against Southern Utah, Oregon had 12 penalties for 115 yards, which included a couple pass interference calls. If this defense can force an early turnover or even get a few stops to put Nebraska at a deficit, it will put the Huskers at a major disadvantage forcing them to play from behind, hich is not a strength of their offense. Should this defense allow some early big plays or let the Huskers get in a rhythm, it will only make the Ducks job more difficult. A disciplined first half of football will set the tone for this game for Oregon as it plays a much tougher opponent in week two.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.