Erik Chinander wants guys who love football.
“We need 11 guys that love football out there. We need 22 guys that love football. Eventually, we need 105 guys that just love to play football. Period,” Nebraska’s defensive coordinator said Tuesday. “Whether it’s out in the rain on a Tuesday or it’s in the Big House or whether it’s in Memorial Stadium, it doesn’t matter. They love football. Practice, games, whatever.”
He was asked about linebacker Mohamed Barry. The junior is one of those guys. Chinander wants more. He’ll look for ahleticism, saying that “right now, the stage of our program, we’ve got to get some length and speed,” but it if comes down to picking between two of the same physically gifted athletes, the personality is going to be the deciding factor.
“We don’t need any more guys that are walking the line all the time and we’ve got to hold their hand, we don’t need guys that maybe love football, we don’t need those guys who play football but you ask them, ‘Hey, did you watch that NFL game last night,’ or, ‘Did you watch that Oregon-Stanford game,’ and they’re like, ‘Nah I don’t really watch football outside of [Nebraska],’” Chinander said. “I don’t want those guys anymore. I want guys that love football. Their life revolves around football.”
Because when you do, Chinander says, it manifests on the field. The Tuesday afternoon practice in the rain is better. Playing in The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana, doesn’t affect your approach. Because the Huskers are having some issues right now with consistency.
“We’ve started practice strong every week,” Chinander said. “We have not ended practice strong every week.”
And the staff is looking for that to change. Last Thursday’s practice was “very below-average,” as Chinander put it. Players have said Monday’s was as intense as any this season, which is fine, but that intensity needs to carry throughout the week. Nebraska has had a ton of great Monday practices this season. We haven’t heard about any great Wednesday practices.
“We need to practice really good on Monday, better on Tuesday, the best on Wednesday and then completely dialed in on Thursday,” Chinander said. “Once that happens, I think it’ll translate to Saturday, but right now that has not happened.”
Chinander acknowledged that from a strength and conditioning standpoint, the Huskers have a ways to go to catch up to a team like Michigan. But he didn’t think Saturday’s 56-10 loss was a fight between David and Goliath. “We could hold our own,” he said. Head coach Scott Frost and several players have said that a few plays here and there go differently, mistakes don’t get made, and the margin looks a little easier to stomach.
But Nebraska has a winnable game this Saturday against Purdue. That’s not bulletin board material; it’s a fact that a 1-3 team not named Ohio State, Wisconsin or Michigan is coming to Memorial Stadium to play the Huskers.
But Purdue brings with its own set of challenges.
“Everyone in the Big Ten’s got their deal, right? Michigan and Wisconsin and some of those other teams are going to pound you and they’re really good at that,” Chinander said. “I think these guys are really good at the spread system, as [good as] anybody in the country.”
On Monday, Frost called Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm one of the country’s best. In 2016 when this staff was at UCF and Brohm was at Western Kentucky, Chinander said the coaches watched plenty of Hilltopper film during bowl game prep and most of what Brohm did there transferred over. He also said they’ve got a weapon in freshman wideout Rondale Moore that “you’re a little bit crazy” if you don’t keep track of him.
But the triggerman, the guy who makes the offense run, is newly-minted starter David Blough. Since taking over the job against Missouri on Sept. 15, Blough has completed 60-of-83 passes (72 percent) for 868 yards and six scores.
“When you turn the film on, the first ball I look to see if a guy can make, if he’s like a real guy, is if he can throw that 20-yard out from the opposite hash,” Chinander said. “[Blough] can throw that thing on the money. He’s an exceptional passer.”
Chinander said Nebraska will need to be disciplined against him. Time to find out who wants it.
Other News and Notes
>> Senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg walked through the upstairs lobby at Hawks Tuesday on crutches with his left knee heavily wrapped. He was putting pressure on his left leg but clearly didn't practice.
Neither wideout Andre Hunt or running back Maurice Washington appeared to practice either.
>> Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher talked Tuesday about a number of things — Purdue, safety depth, loving the game — but maybe the most interesting quote came when he was asked about the decline in practice quality.
“Most of it’s mental,” he said. “Thursday is not a day that we tax the players physically. Mentally is what the challenge is for those guys. So, on a day that’s mental, you can’t mess that up. Really, I don’t think they’re tiring out during the week, I think their focus is dying out. I think what we’ve got to do is coach them harder. I’ve got to do a better job of coaching those guys harder and having those guys ready to go on Thursdays during the week.
“We have to do a better job of practicing on Wednesdays. Yes, we’ve been having great practices on Mondays and then Tuesdays, but it’s got to be more consistent throughout the week.”
>> Special teams coach Jovan Dewitt said the change from senior Jordan Ober to junior Chase Urbach Saturday was about punt coverage.
Junior punter Caleb Lightbourn tried to shoulder some of the blame for the mistakes on special teams right now, particularly in punt coverage where Nebraska has yielded a score each of the last two weeks, and said he’s working on getting his punts out of the middle of the field and outside the hashes.
Dewitt then took some of that blame back off his punter.
“Whether the ball is being placed in the right spot or not should not have a bearing on how well we cover down on a kick,” he said. “And that's what we're trying to instill in these guys over and over and over again. Until we get that going, we're replacing guys, getting new guys in, putting other people out there, showing the desire to excel and not just doing a job.”
That’s the same approach Dewitt is taking on every special teams unit. He said there have been some “auditions” across the board.
“We are making sure people know that jobs are always on the line, every day they are on the line,” he said. “There is absolutely a fine line with showing faith in guys. But there is validity in either you can, you can’t or you won’t. Can’t and won’t are the same thing at the end of the day. So, when someone makes a mistake, we move and get going. But if you keep making the same mistake, now it’s a conscious decision. We can’t deal with that."
>> Inside linebacker coach Barrett Ruud had praise for Barry same as Chinander.
“He really does a good job on a daily basis,” Ruud said. “He shows that he really loves the game. He’s a leader and putting everything he can into the game. He’s gotta just keep bringing guys with him. He holds himself to a high standard and so do we.”
We’ll have more on the middle linebacker later.
>> Nebraska has two interceptions in as many weeks. Corner Lamar Jackson caught his first career pick against Troy and safety Deontai Williams picked off Michigan in the back of the end zone last Saturday. Chinander wants more.
“They’re getting better but not good enough,” he said. “There’s too many balls in the air right now that have got to be ours.
“They just have to realize that when the ball goes in the air, there’s a fistfight every snap. Sometimes it’s on the line of scrimmage with the o-line, d-line. They’re in a fistfight darn near every snap. For those DBs, you’re going to be in the run fit a handful of times a game, you’re in a fistfight then. When the ball’s in the air, you’re in a fistfight with the receiver.
“There’s not a lot of offensive pass interference being called right now and that’s not going to change, so we need to go attack the football. We need to take the football away and we need to get some of those balls in the air.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.