Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Competition in Bye Brings New Faces, Simplification for Huskers

September 27, 2022

The music’s gone. Clattering pads and vocal coaching now fill the open air behind Memorial Stadium and Cook Pavilion.

It was one of the changes interim head coach Mickey Joseph made in his first week heading the program. Because Nebraska makes its own noise. Joseph, in his second week, challenged the Huskers over a bye for “Nebraska vs. Nebraska.” The Huskers emerged from the internally competitive week with shuffled components ready for a Memorial Stadium return.

“We’re trying to find our best 11 guys and get them on the field,” Joseph said. “So we have to find those guys. So we’ve got to go through those young guys and see if they can get it done.”

Gabe Ervin Jr., Rahmir Johnson and Jaquez Yant are all listed as potential second options at running back after Ajay Allen underwent season-ending collarbone surgery last week. Ethan Piper is the starting left guard, replacing Kevin Williams Jr. at the top of the depth chart. Turner Corcoran is listed as the starting left tackle for the second game in a row. Meanwhile, the most notable difference on defense is Omar Brown shifting to nickel while two freshmen cracked the two-deep at defensive back.

“It was really good competition, we got after each other,” Joseph said. “Today we’re getting reps in for Indiana and I was happy with their effort today.”

This coincides with Joseph’s message to players. The bye gave them an opportunity to reset and refocus.

Junior receiver Brody Belt said that’s brought a different vibe and feel to practice. He appreciated the competitive emphasis and fallout.

“We kind of switched up a lot of things that week,” Belt said. “We were really sticking to the basics, trying to get better. Do what we know best and repping the same things over and over to make sure we get those things right.

“It was definitely Nebraska versus Nebraska. We weren’t focused on any teams, anybody down the road. We were really focused on us this week and I think we got better for it.”

Meanwhile, the Huskers have yet to play a game since Bill Busch took over as interim defensive coordinator. Last week provided Busch an opportunity to step into that role and simplify things.

“Obviously when he stepped into that role he had some different words for us, different style of defense, we’re going to change things up,” defensive lineman Colton Feist said.

Nebraska’s defensive front is largely unchanged. Feist and Ty Robinson remain starting tackles while team captains Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor start at edge. They are supported by Luke Reimer and a healthy Nick Henrich at linebacker, and Isaac Gifford at nickel. They all earned their spots once more.

The Yutan native acknowledged the team’s run defense isn’t where the team wants it. Film studies indicate it’s a blown gap assignment or mental lapse.

“We’ve just got to tighten up and do our own job,” Feist said. “Everybody does their own job and it’ll work out perfect for us.”

Defensive back Marques Buford spoke highly of freshmen Jaeden Gold and Malcolm Hartzog, who both appeared on the two-deep depth chart at defensive back after the bye.

“They take all the criticism and take it with their head up high,” Buford said. “They come out every day ready to learn and get better.”

Buford also liked shuffling Omar Brown to nickel. He called Brown “a ball player,” and liked that the team is finding ways to get him on the field more because of his athleticism and versatility.

In order to meet younger players with an unorthodox coaching staff, interim defensive coordinator Bill Busch brings overall simplification with him. Those simplified steps come at the right time. Indiana runs an uptempo offense that will stress coaches to get calls into players.

More mental scheme questions create apprehension and slower reaction times. Eliminating those questions, in theory, will allow the defense to play faster, one of Joseph’s emphasis points.

“A lot of it, you guys are just going to see us get lined up fast,” Buford said, “and we’ll be matching the tempo way better. It should be fun.”

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