Scott Frost has avoided making the Year 2 comparison between Central Florida and Nebraska, but that doesn’t mean we have to.
So far we’ve focused on offensive production — receiving and rushing, to be precise. But Scott Frost brought his entire staff from Orlando to Lincoln including his defensive coordinator, Erik Chinander. So let’s turn our attention to his side of the ball and focus on the defense.
Last season, Nebraska gave up 31.3 points per game. That’s not going to cut it. In 2017, Central Florida held opponents to 25.3 points per game. Negative plays are a big part of what Chinander wants to do on defense based on what we’ve heard, but the Huskers weren’t quite there in Year 1 of the Frost era.
In 12 games, Nebraska recorded 25 sacks (2.1 per game) and 63 tackles for loss (5.3 per game). That number is a little deceptive, however, as seven of those sacks came in the first game of the season; four was the peak in the other 11 games and with seven games featuring one sack or less.
In what was a surprise to me, however, Central Florida’s numbers are actually pretty similar. In 13 games in 2017, the Knights had 27 sacks (2.1 per game) and 77 tackles for loss (5.9 per game). The Knights also had seven games with one sack or less, but they saved their best for lass with six sacks in the Peach Bowl against Auburn.
Central Florida had 12 players with at least half a sack and 20 with at least half a tackle for loss; Nebraska was 12 and 21.
Below, I included the players with more than one sack and better than four tackles for loss. First up is Central Florida:
|Shaquem Griffin||SR LB||13||7.0||13.5|
|Jamiyus Pittman||SR DL||13||4.5||7.5|
|Trysten Hill||SO DL||13||2.0||4.0|
|Tony Guerad||SR DL||13||2.0||9.0|
|Shawn Burgess-Becker||SO LB||12||2.0||2,0|
|Joey Connors||JR DL||13||2.0||3.5|
|Chequan Burkett||SR LB||13||1.5||4.5|
|Titus Davis||JR LB||13||1.5||5.0|
|Gabriel Luyanda||JR LB||13||1.0||4.5|
|Pat Jasinski||JR LB||13||1.0||8.5|
And now Nebraska:
|Luke Gifford||SR LB||12||5.5||12.0|
|Ben Stille||SO DL||12||5.0||5.0|
|Khalil Davis||JR DL||12||3.0||7.5|
|Freedom Akinmoladun||SR DL||12||2.5||2.5|
|Mohamed Barry||JR LB||12||2.0||10.0|
|Tyrin Ferguson||SR LB||8||1.0||6.0|
Shaquem Griffin was the star of that Central Florida defense, an undersized outside linebacker who won with speed. Luke Gifford wasn’t far behind Griffin in terms of production, actually, but Gifford is gone and the Huskers will have to find a new primary pass-rusher.
Outside of Griffin and Gifford, nether team got a whole lot out of their other linebackers in terms of pass-rush. In total, six linebackers recorded 14 sacks and 38 tackles for loss in 13 games for the Knights, while eight ‘backers were responsible for 10.5 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in 12 games for Nebraska.
Mohamed Barry only recorded two sacks (which was actually second among linebackers) but he caused plenty of havoc with 10 tackles for loss. His partner on the interior, Dedrick Young II, only mustered 2.5 tackles for loss and no sacks, however. Central Florida had both inside linebackers — Pat Jasinski (8.5 tackles for loss, one sack) and Chequan Burkett (4.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks) making negative plays. Perhaps Collin Miller will be better suited for making plays behind the line of scrimmage than Young was.
Tyrin Ferguson was limited to just eight games by injury, but in that time he managed to record six tackles for loss (more than any Central Florida linebacker not named Griffin). Both Ferguson and JoJo Domann have shown a knack for making plays; Nebraska needs them to stay healthy this season.
Nebraska struggled to control the line of scrimmage defensively last season, but the Husker defensive linemen still managed to out-sack their counterparts in Orlando. In 12 games, a collection of eight linemen recorded 13.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. In 13 games, Central Florida’s linemen produced 12.5 sacks and 27 tackles for loss.
For Nebraska, Ben Stille had five sacks, more than any of Central Florida’s linemen (Jamiyus Pittman led them with 4.5 sacks) and Khalil Davis was productive with three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss (leading the defensive line room in the latter category). Other than Davis, however, Nebraska’s defensive line wasn’t particularly good to making tackles for loss that weren’t sacks, which is probably a reflection of the inability to win up front, something Zach Duval has been working to address throughout the offseason.
The Huskers lost Freedom Akinmoladun, Mick Stoltenberg and walk-on Matt Jarzynka and their combined 4.5 sacks from that room but brought everybody else back and added Darrion Daniels at the nose. If Daniels and his brother Damion can eat up blocks in the middle better than Nebraska’s nose tackles could last year, that might free up the Davis brothers and Stille to make more plays on the edge.
My main takeaway from this study is that perhaps the pass rush isn’t the key to getting Nebraska’s defense where it needs to be. The Huskers weren’t all that far behind the Knights in that category. Nebraska still needs some pass-rushers to emerge, particularly at outside linebacker, but the good news is that as good as Griffin was, Central Florida didn’t have a dominant pass-rusher in 2017 and still defended well enough to go 13-0.
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.