LINCOLN, Neb. — “I think everybody said we’re better than that. Man to man, coach to coach, we said we’re better than that. We’re embarrassed and that’s not going to happen again.”
Those were the words of cornerbacks coach Brian Stewart after Tuesday’s practice about the team’s 55-45 loss at Purdue last year. On Saturday, the Huskers will get another shot at the Boilermakers and they certainly won’t be overlooking them this time around.
“They have a good O-line, they’re I think No. 1 in the Big Ten in passing, we respect their run game,” senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said. “We can’t overlook them at all; that’s how you get beat. We’re going to respect this team; we’re going to have to grind it out this week.”
Purdue will have an advantage with former Nebraska linebackers coach Ross Els on the Purdue staff.
“He’s just one of the smartest coaches that I’ve ever had the opportunity to be coached by,” senior linebacker Josh Banderas said. “He knows his Xs and Os better than anything and he recruited all of us. He recruited the seniors and juniors and even some of the sophomores. I’m sure the offensive coordinator is going to be in his ear asking about everybody and asking about matchups and stuff. So I’m excited that he’s coming back and excited I get a chance to see him and talk to him.”
The Boilermakers may only be 3-3, but the Purdue offense will still pose a formidable challenge for the Blackshirts as they are averaging over 300 yards through the air, tops in the Big Ten.
“They can move the ball,” Linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “They’ve done well on offense. I think they lead our conference in pass offense. So they present their own set of problems for us so we have to be locked in. We have to go out and play our best.”
Bray called the loss to Purdue the low point of a losing season for the Huskers, but since that game they are 9-1 with some quality wins.
“I tried to forget it, to be honest with you,” Bray said about the loss. “We bottomed out at that point last year. Guys realized we had to change the way we approached things and the attitude with which we showed up for practice. That’s been the biggest change we’ve had to make since we got here is how we practice. We want to practice like we play, so we have to practice fast, we have to get to the ball, we have to practice making plays. It took some time to get them to do that and that’s really been the biggest difference for us is we practice so much better than we did a year ago.”
>> The Nebraska defense has taken major strides since the loss at Purdue, and on a day where the banged up offense struggled, the defense carried the Huskers to victory against Indiana last week. Banderas said he thought that was the defense’s most complete performance under defensive coordinator Mark Banker to date.
“You just saw it on film, and it was more the plays that we’ve seen before that we got beat on in previous games that, this game, we didn’t get beat on; we fit them right and we were attacking it because we knew what was coming and we knew how to do it right,” Banderas said. “I think it’s probably fair to say this was the most complete game that we’ve played under him.”
Stewart said the Blackshirts are in a good place right now and are only getting better.
“I think that the main thing that we do well is play fast, play with an attitude and play together,” Stewart said. “I think the communication, the understanding of the defense, I think it’s all kind of jelling and just keeps on getting better every week. I know Coach Banker is excited about it, I’m excited about it too.”
Bray gave the linebackers in particular a positive report card after his group had struggled a bit in previous games.
“I thought they played pretty well,” Bray said. “They played hard, they ran to the ball, took good angles to the ball, made some good plays – a couple sacks, a couple hits on the quarterback that ended up being a big one. Dedrick had one where it probably saved a touchdown, hitting the quarterback. There was some good stuff, and still things to work on as always, but I thought there was some improvement.”
>> Young doesn’t necessarily produce big stat lines as often as some of the other linebackers, but Bray said he is playing a crucial role for the defense.
“He’s been much more aggressive,” Bray said. “Dedrick does a lot of stuff and the position he’s at, he does a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up on stat lines. He takes out two pullers when they try to run a sweep all day on us last Saturday and he was taking out two and letting guys like Bando be free to the ball. That’s really valuable.”
Perhaps the area of his game other than aggressiveness that has seen the most improvement from his freshman to sophomore years is his coverage.
“His coverage has been much better,” Bray said. “They’ve tried to run the wheels and stuff that hurt him last year and he’s covered them and knocked them down and made plays on them. He’s changed his body as well which helps him move and helps him finish and helps him cover for sure.”
>> Sophomore Aaron Williams made some big plays against the Hoosiers and Stewart said he is pleased with the job the safety has done playing as the nickel corner.
“He’s done a good job,” Stewart said. “Short area quickness. They tried to attack him on the vertical stuff. They tried to attack him vertical against I believe that was Northwestern, he got an interception, and they tried to do it again this week and he was able to attack the ball. He’s playing well. He’s playing at a high level.”
>> The Huskers may have just come off a bye week before playing Indiana, but they are far from healthy. Left tackle Nick Gates, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, cornerback Eric Lee, running back Adam Taylor, offensive tackle Matt Farniok and Cethan Carter all sat out during today’s practice. However, quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., right tackle David Knevel and running back Devine Ozigbo did participate.
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.