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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Erik Chinander’s Hungry, Nebraska’s Defense Still ‘Not Even Close’

November 06, 2018

Erik Chinander saw a little bit of Adrian Martinez’s postgame press conference after Saturday’s loss to Ohio State. Mostly, he saw the Huskers’ freshman quarterback deflect praise from a good individual day on account of a team goal that went unmet. “Losing is never acceptable,” he said then.

“I’m with him,” Chinander said Tuesday when he met with the media. “I feel good energy coming to work every day because I see the improvement on tape, but I also feel hungry because we’re not even close.

“We’re just not even close.

“That was a good football team. We played better but we can’t give up that many points, we can’t give up some of the mistakes we did that lead to those big runs.”

So when head coach Scott Frost talks about the defense having its best performance of the season, for Nebraska’s defensive coordinator, there’s a little bit of good and bad. The good stems from the turnovers (Nebraska forced three) and the physicality and the ability to make game-changing plays when the Huskers needed them. The bad stems from the end result.

“We didn’t win the football game, we needed to win the football game, we should have won the football game,” he said. “We had the opportunity to win it on defense and leave the offense sitting on the bench. I love our offense, I want them to score 100 points, but there’s some games where I want to go out there and I want the defense to go out there and win it.”

They’re getting close to that.

When the defense took the field for the first time last Saturday backed up at their own 22-yard-line, the mood on the sideline was night and day from earlier in the season. Early on, Chinander would get in a huddle and it would just be him talking.

“Now we go out there that first drive and half the group was like, ‘We’re going to hold them to three,’ and the other half of the group was like, ‘Oh hell no, they ain’t getting any points,’” he recalled. “I’m like [shrugs], you guys got it, let’s go.

“It’s becoming a real thing. It’s not something coaches are just talking about now. It’s becoming a real thing and that’s where you want to be.”

There are players like Mo Barry and Luke Gifford and Mick Stoltenberg that have maybe spearheaded that, but the positive is in the fact everyone on the defense has started talking. Players are policing players. The d-line is telling itself it needs sacks. The DBs are trying to take the ball away.

And that might be the area where Nebraska has improved the most. The Huskers have three turnovers forced in back-to-back games. In the last four weeks, the Blackshirts have six picks and two multiple-interception games.

“Because it’s happening in practice,” Chinander said. “They’re taking those drills seriously. You watch the film of those “turnover drills” at the beginning of the year and it looks like the Bad News Bears out there running around. Now it looks like a real football team, guys are trying to get the football. You can see they’re more ball-aware in team settings, they’re more ball-aware in individual settings and obviously they’re becoming more ball aware in the games, which is good.”

Chinander says he gets in those drills now, those turnover drills and tip drills the Huskers work on every practice. It has boosted the energy and the attention to detail. “They attack the football more,” Chinander says. There was no magic potion to fixing things, they just needed to stick with the process. Coach in film rooms, emphasize on the field and never stop talking about its importance.

The results are speaking for themselves.

Last year, Nebraska's defensive backs ranked 130th in the country in havoc rate.

This year, Nebraska's defensive backs rank 39th in the country in havoc rate.

“If you watch the film from spring to fall camp there’s a jump,” Chinander said. “If you watch the film from fall camp to Game 1, there’s a jump. If you watch from Game 1 to probably two games ago, there’s a huge, huge jump.

“It’s the technique and what we want, ball awareness, not just being in position anymore but going to get the football. It’s the understanding that being in position is not good enough. Anybody can be in position. You want to be great, go get the football.”

Other News and Notes

>> Tight end Jack Stoll said the team is very aware of the fact they still have a shot at a bowl game if they get to 5-7. A long shot, yes, but anything can happen, Stoll said.

>> The plan remains the same for sophomore outside linebacker Breon Dixon: he’ll redshirt. He made his Husker debut Saturday in Columbus but didn’t play a ton. Outside linebacker coach Jovan Dewitt said Dixon needs to add some weight to his frame.

>> Dewitt was also pretty blunt about the special teams woes plaguing the Huskers right now.

“Special teams in general, it’s obviously completely inconsistent, so we’re just trying to build consistency,” he said. “There’s times where we played really, really well on special teams and covered some kicks down. You go from really, really good to God awful. Those are the things you can’t have. The fact that we were able to be in the game and lead the game with those miscues happening speaks a lot to the character of our kids.”

>> Illinois running back Reggie Corbin has 952 yards on 105 carries this season. Quarterback AJ Bush has another 472 yards on 85 carries. Backup tailback Mike Epstein has 411 on 60. Chinander sees a lot of the triple-option stuff Nebraska used to run in the golden days in what Illinois is finding success with now.

Specifically on Bush, Chinander praised the decision making.

“I think the best thing he does is he can read it, he knows who he’s reading, he can make a quick decision,” Chinander said. “When he runs it himself, he’s very effective so I think just his ability to read what he’s supposed to read and make a good decision is making that thing go.”

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