Taking the next step as a defense is something we have heard as a goal from several Nebraska players throughout the offseason. Now we have a game under our belts for the 2021 season. It’s starting to become clear what that means for this group of Blackshirts. The team had a strong showing in parts of the game against Illinois, with Nebraska starting hot on defense and showing the potential of the attack unit.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was not interested in singling out any players from game one, but he did say that there is a higher level that the defense can get to as a unit.
“I think a lot of guys probably played their best game as a Husker,” Chinander said on Tuesday. “That’s the encouraging thing. That’s also the disappointing thing, because I think there’s so much more in them. I think this group has more. I think we just need to continue to demand excellence out of this group.
“They played a good football game. They had an opportunity to play an elite football game and we weren’t quite ready to do it yet. In That’s on me. That’s disappointing. That’s got to change.”
One word that comes to mind when thinking about the defense taking the next step is detail. That’s immediately where outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson went when asked. Dawson thinks for the Huskers to make that jump in a game they have to be finer with the details. That means being exact in your execution. There can be no ‘almosts’ or ‘my bads.’ There can’t be 45-yard runs that pop because someone takes two false steps.
Then there were the big flags.
“The penalty, well, the penalties on the one play was a big factor,” Dawson said. “We don’t have that and we’ve got a penalty-free game on that side of the ball. That’s a pretty big deal in this day and age. It’s hard to get that especially with teams being spread out and so much stuff going laterally.”
A penalty-free defensive game wasn’t the only thing on the line with that play. That was an opportunity to be elite. It would have given Nebraska a second turnover on defense. If you’re getting two and a half or three turnovers a game, you’re playing pretty good defense according to Dawson. Taking that interception off the board made that a bigger error for Nebraska.
The challenge that Nebraska’s defensive coaches face sounds simple but is difficult. They need to get the group to put a complete game together. The energy and speed that everyone saw in the first quarter and a half of the game Saturday is needed. It became a different game once Illinois got up. Before that ,we saw Nebraska getting after the quarterback.
Keep the energy up while staying locked in on the details. Then the Huskers have a chance to put together ‘elite’ defensive performances.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.