Friday’s season finale for the Huskers at Iowa is a homecoming of sorts for Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, an Iowa native who spent his playing days as a Hawkeye from 1998 to 2002.
While Chinander and head coach Scott Frost were together at Oregon, the two traded some friendly banter about their alma maters, but Chinander said his allegiances certainly won’t be split on Friday. He’s a Husker now.
“I tell the kids all the time, ‘you guys have got great stuff here,’” Chinander said. “The facilities are unbelievable, the training table, the academics. My favorite place in the whole building, in the whole complex, is when we walk out of that gate and it says ‘I play for Nebraska.’ I coach at Nebraska; I get to coach at Nebraska. There’s no doubt about it: I grew up in Iowa, but home is where the heart is and my home’s in Lincoln, my heart’s in Lincoln.”
Chinander did say he’s looking forward to returning to his old stomping grounds, but the trip is all about business, not pleasure.
“It will be good to go back to that stadium,” Chinander said. “I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming — wearing red — to the game, so that’ll be good. But this is an important game for our team. It’s really important to finish strong, for the defense to play well in this game and get some momentum going into spring football and recruiting.”
The Black Friday game means the work week is one day shorter for the Huskers, a fact that doesn’t thrill Chinander.
“I hate the short weeks because I love practice,” Chinander said. “The guys love the games, I like the game too, but Saturday’s for the boys; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are my days so when we miss a day, I don’t like that very much. I know it’s good to get a Friday night game or a Friday game after Thanksgiving on TV and all that stuff. But I like practice, I do not like the short weeks.”
A short week is what the Huskers have, however, and they have to prepare for a 7-4 Iowa team that is top-five in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Hawkeyes are not as strong in the run game as they have been in recent years, averaging just under 4 yards per carry, but Iowa is strong in the pass game thanks in large part to quarterback Nathan Stanley and tight ends TJ Hockensen and Omaha native Noah Fant.
“I think they’re really good up front,” Chinander said of Iowa. “The O-line does a good job of really knowing what their assignments are and executing and then the tight ends cause you some problems. They have two or three guys they can put in there that all block really well and can all run routes really well. So I think they pose some problems in the run game if you’re going to try to cover those guys and then if you try to load up the box and stop the run game they’re going to beat you with the pass so you have to have a good plan to take those tight ends away.”
Senior safety Antonio Reed said he’s looking forward to the challenge of defending Iowa’s tight ends.
“Just because they’ve got big tight ends, I feel like it’s going to be a good game for the safeties to show how much we have improved this year,” Reed said.
Chinander mentioned Fant specifically as a difficult match-up because of his ability to play both as a tight end or plot out wide, where Chinander said he compares favorably to a lot of true wideouts in the Big Ten.
However, coming off the 9-6 win against Michigan State, Chinander said the defense is feeling confident.
“I think it’s great for the defense,” Chinander said. “It builds confidence, obviously, and it shows the guys there are going to be games, probably, as we move forward in our tenure that we’re going to win 50 to nothing, and that’s great. And there are going to be games where we win it 55-49, and that’s great too because we won. And then there’s going to be a game where we have to win 9-6 or 2 to nothing, and that’s really good too and that’s awesome for us. But it’s a team game. There’s going to be a game where a special teams touchdown wins it.
“They need to understand that every phase of the game is important. We need to play 100 percent no matter the circumstance, whether the offense scores a touchdown, whether the offense throws an interception, whether we turn the ball over on special teams, whether we get a turnover on special teams, it all works together and I think it’s good for those guys to see that.”
Other News and Notes:
>> Reed played what he called his best game in college last Saturday, and when he went to his locker before practice on Monday, he found a Blackshirt hanging in his locker.
“It’s a pretty good feeling; it’s amazing,” Reed said. “I never experienced a feeling like this. I got my Blackshirt last year, but it just feels so much better over time this year instead of just getting it [right away].”
Reed said the best part of getting his Blackshirt was how excited his teammates were when they saw it.
“It means everything to be a Blackshirt,” Reed said. “It’s something that you have to earn every day. It’s something that can be taken away at any time, basically just like rent — if you don’t pay for it every day it can be taken away at any time.”
Reed certainly paid his rent against the Spartans. He finished with 7 tackles, two forced fumbles, two pass break-ups and an interception.
“I just wanted to leave Memorial Stadium with an impression they would remember on my last day in Memorial Stadium,” Reed said. “That’s what I was thinking about, going hard for my people, my brothers to my left and my right.”
Reed made a handful of highlight-reel plays on Saturday but his fourth-quarter sack and forced fumble stood above the rest for Reed.
“The whole Memorial Stadium was on its feet right after the sack fumble,” Reed said. “So I’d say that feeling is probably the best feeling I had in memorial Stadium since I’ve been here.”
Reed was flying all around the field on Saturday and senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg said the rest of the Blackshirts were rallying around him and feeding off of his energy.
“It’s pretty cool,” Reed said. “It’s something that I envisioned for a while playing football, even from little league up, just leading the team and being the center of attention, the center of energy and everybody just boosting around you from what you do, it’s amazing.”
>> Reed isn’t the only new Blackshirt this week. Senior nose tackle Peyton Newell also tweeted out a picture of a black No. 99 jersey on Tuesday afternoon.
Blackshirt brotherhood ☠️ pic.twitter.com/4V12j5atzD
— Peyton Newell (@p_newell) November 20, 2018
Former Nebraska offensive lineman Dylan Utter was fired up about the news.
Couldn’t be more proud of my dude @p_newell when things get tough it’s so easy to pack the packs and leave. So easy to shut down and forget who you are. Peyton controlled two things his Attitude and effort. Love when people trust the process. This black shirt was EARNED #BEATIOWA pic.twitter.com/D4nRfpLsdo
— Hoodie Dud (@DylanUtter66) November 20, 2018
>> Junior outside linebacker Tyrin Ferguson opened the season as a starter, but an injury knocked him out for a few weeks and he’s been limited since returning. However, he saw the field a lot on Saturday and Ferguson was complimentary of the way the coaching staff handled the situation.
“I think he was playing really well when he got hurt,” outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt said. “Then he went through some health issues and for him to say he appreciates how we handled it, I appreciate that. But I don’t really know any other way to do it. You have guys that are in your program and it’s your responsibility to make sure you're taking care of those guys to the best of your ability and making sure that they know that they’re still a part of the program.”
Ferguson came off the bench behind Alex Davis, who started the game, and JoJo Domann, who plays a hybrid outside linebacker-safety role in Nebraska’s subpackages, but Ferguson made the most of the snaps he was given and Dewitt stuck with him after that.
“Alex was in there early, JoJo was obviously playing throughout the course of the game in different roles and then Ferg, when he was in, really started to produce pretty well and so sometimes you have a plan in place before the game to get guys rolling in and out of the game to even out the reps a little bit so that not one person’s getting worm out, but sometimes you kind of go with the hot hand,” Dewitt said. “At halftime, they came out with kind of a funky formation, like a double-snug look where there’s a tight end and a wide receiver right next to each other and he fit it up exactly perfectly and at that point I knew he was pretty locked in to what was going on. He was producing, had a couple big plays for us, so I didn’t think there was any reason to take him out and lose any kind of rhythm that he’d generated.”
>> Defensive line coach Mike Dawon was very complimentary of redshirt freshman nose tackle Damion Daniels’ performance against the Spartans.
"Damion's grade was pretty good,” Dawson said. “He played his best game of the year so far I thought. It probably lines up well that he's been training. He's improved week to week so I think its probably not a mistake that here at the end, he is playing better. He's been working real hard with coach Duval and his staff. He's done a nice job, now he has to continue that momentum in the winter time and into spring ball."
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.