As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Nebraska defensive end Casey Rogers logged a total of 34 snaps in four games. The sophomore from Syracuse, New York, nearly matched that total on Saturday as he logged the third-most snaps among defensive linemen at Ohio State.
After redshirting in 2018 and sitting behind a veteran-laden defensive line rotation last season, Rogers has put himself in a position to be a key part of the Huskers’ rotation up front in 2020.
“It was special,” Rogers said. “It was a really cool feeling, especially against a team like Ohio State. It’s everything I’ve ever trained for, it’s everything I ever wanted. It was expected to go out there and work as hard as I can no matter what. It was a very special moment, especially being in that stadium.”
Though he lists Syracuse as his hometown, Rogers said he was born in a Columbus hospital, just a short walk from Ohio Stadium.
“It was pretty special to play just about 500 yards from where I was born,” Rogers said. “It was awesome.”
Ben Stille, Ty Robinson and Damion Daniels started up front, but Nebraska spent much of the game with just two defensive linemen in the game and Rogers out-snapped Daniels 30 to 20. He finished with four tackles (two solo), earning his way onto the stat sheet for the first time as a Husker.
“It really started in training camp,” Tuioti said about Rogers’ rise up the depth chart. “I saw a lot of positive things from him in training camp and it’s just great to see that what he did in training camp translated over to the game. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s more confident to be able to execute the scheme of the defense and it showed up on Saturday. He did a good job in being able to knock back the offensive linemen a few times and get himself in the play, and also did a few good things in the pass rush game for us as well. I want to continue to build on his reps, continue to help him gain more confidence, but he’s playing at a really good level right now and I’m proud of his progression so far.”
Defensive line was one of the biggest question marks on the team heading into the season after all three 2019 starters — Darrion Daniels and Carlos and Khalil Davis — moved on to the NFL. Seven different linemen logged snaps on Saturday, and that was without JUCO transfer Jordon Riley suiting up. Stille, the only returner with starting experience, led the line with 58 defensive snaps, but redshirt freshman Ty Robinson and Rogers saw plenty of snaps as well.
“I definitely think that we took a good step forward,” Rogers said. “When we talked before about replacing those three guys, we knew that job was going to be very difficult and very tough, especially with how good those defensive linemen were. You’ve got the twins and Darrion, they’re very special players. We knew the task that was in front of us, but I think all of us who were young last year who now have to step up to the plate, I think we did a good job of that.
“There’s still a lot we can work on and there’s going to be stuff that we’re going to keep working on. I know especially talking to Ty, we wren’t satisfied completely with how we played. Coach T says all the time we’ve got to take it to the next level. How do you get good, better, best? That’s something that we look at on Sunday after the game, what we did good, how do we make it better and what are the things we have to do to make it our best.”
Rogers came within an inch or so of making a huge play early in the game. The Huskers stopped Ohio State short on third down on their first drive of the game, but the Buckeyes went for it. Justin Fields dropped back to pass and targeted a receiver cutting across the middle. Rogers saw the throw coming and jumped with his hands in the air, getting a finger on the ball and deflecting it. However, it wasn’t enough to break up the pass as the receiver still hauled it in and moved the chains. Four plays later, the Buckeyes found the end zone to tie it up at 7-7.
“Every game there are always plays that you wish you could get back, especially that play with Casey,” Tuioti said. “That’s a fourth-down play on their first drive. He bats the ball down, that’s a big win for us there, a momentum-changer. We just scored and to be able to get a stop, that would have been a big play for us.”
Tuioti also referenced a couple of near-sacks the Huskers had that Fields managed to escape. Nebraska sent some pressure, the rushers got to the quarterback and they just weren’t able to complete the play.
“I always talk to our guys about execution over scheme,” Tuioti said. “Everybody has plays, but its how you execute those plays. Our guys already know we’re young, they’re learning from this game and hopefully we can execute better here coming up against Wisconsin.”
The Badgers didn’t look like a typical Wisconsin team in their week one win against Illinois, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry while racking up nearly 350 yards and five touchdowns through the air with redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz. However, Mertz has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 and will have to sit out at least 21 days. Rogers said the key to the game — assuming it happens at all — will be physicality.
“We know these guys are going to be big and we know these guys are going to be physical,” Rogers said. “What else would you want as a defensive lineman? That’s our game. We’re excited to be able to play them. This game is going to be won in the trenches, especially with their quarterback down, we’re going to expect running probably even more than we did before. But we’re ready for it.
“We’re ready to bang some heads and get dirty in the trenches.”
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.