LINCOLN, Neb. – It’s Wisconsin week, and on Tuesday it was the Nebraska defense’s turn to preview its game with the Badgers.
“The biggest thing that jumps out to me is how well-coached they are, how well they execute,” defensive coordinator Mark Banker said. “They have a lot of pre-snap shifts and motions that are flawless. The other thing that jumps out is that it’s a team that is a physical team. It’s not about the scheme; it’s more about a handful of plays that they get really good at and then they try to give you some problems with formations and how they set the flank, whether it’s tight, whether it’s wide, some nasty splits and things like that. The other thing that sticks out is [Wisconsin running back Corey] Clement is by far the best back that we’ve faced. He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s fast, great pick and slide behind the line of scrimmage, lateral movement – make you miss.”
Linebackers coach Trent Bray mentioned Oregon’s Royce Freeman as the other top back the Huskers have faced, but more or less echoed Banker’s thoughts.
“He’s an all-around back,” Bray said. “He runs well, he’s got great change of direction and he can run away from you at the same time. He presents a lot of problems because he’s tough to bring down, he breaks a lot of tackles.”
Senior safety Nate Gerry had some high praise for the Badgers based on what he’s seen on film.
“It’s a big game for us,” Gerry said. “It’s another opportunity for us to prove ourselves against a very good offense. So far this season, it’s probably the best offense we’re going to face. It’s a big challenge for the defense, so we’re excited.”
The Wisconsin defense has drawn far more praise than the offense at this point of the season. The Badgers are 10th in the Big Ten in points per game and ninth in total offense per game. So what makes them so tough to deal with?
“Watching film, they’re just one of those teams that we’re going to be in a boxing match; they’re going to put us in a corner and we just have to swing out of it,” Gerry said. “On film, they’re just disciplined and they just keep hitting you with the same plays. Especially in the secondary, it just comes down to our eyes and fits and overall toughness. Whoever swings the must punches is going to win the game.”
Wisconsin has become synonymous with great offensive line play, and defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said it is all going to start up front.
“It’s going to be a war in the trenches,” Maurice said.
>> One thing the Blackshirts will have to look out for is Wisconsin’s play-action game.
“The biggest part is they’re going to pound you and pound you and pound you and get you creeping up, creeping up, and that’s when they go after you,” Bray said. “It’s just that play-in-and-play-out discipline, especially in the back end and to the linebackers, once you see it get back out, get your depth so we make them put air on it so our secondary can react.”
>> Camp Randall is known as one of the rowdiest college towns in the country and the Huskers are expecting a hostile atmosphere when they take the field. However, linebackers coach Trent Bray said he prefers it that way on the road.
“I expect them to be excited and go out and play well,” Bray said about his team. “I think the environment we’re going into, that’s a fun environment. That’s kind of what you come to Nebraska for. I think playing here and then going on the road where there’s no environment is harder than going to a place with environment because you feed off it, whether it’s good or bad against you. I just think it’s going to be a big-time atmosphere and it’s going to be a fun game on our guys and I expect them to go out, handle it and play well.”
As for Wisconsin’s well-known crowd tradition, senior safety Nate Gerry said bring it on.
“To me, I’m excited,” Gerry said. “The ‘Jump Around’ thing is their fourth quarter thing, but I wouldn’t want to see us in the fourth quarter either.”
>> Heading into the bye week a couple of weeks ago, tackling had become a big problem for the Nebraska defense. However, the team spent extra time in practice over the bye week and it appears to have paid off.
“The biggest thing is they’ve just gone and gotten stuff a little bit better, not worried about the ball out-running them but trusting that someone is going to push it back,” Bray said. “When we did have issues, that was the biggest one. That was good to see and it’s got to be continued work every day, especially with the back we’ll see this week and we’ll see every week. You’ve got good backs that can put their foot in the ground and change direction so you’ve got to be on a really good angle.”
>> Before the Indiana game, senior middle linebacker Josh Banderas went to the coaches and asked if he could play on special teams. They agreed, and over the past two games he has already made a big impact.
“I think it’s important because it helps us win,” Bray said. “He does a great job. It’s good just as a leadership example and then it’s good for him and his future down the road to be able to be a good special teams player. I think it’s all been great and his attitude toward special teams as a senior captain, you don’t see that very often. That’s very unique … In two games, he’s one away from leading our whole special teams in tackles. He had about three or four tackles on special teams the other day.”
>> Senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice came into this season with 1.5 sacks through the first three years of his career. Through seven games, Maurice has already doubled that this season with three, good for second on the team.
“It’s very satisfying,” Maurice said about getting to the quarterback. “It’s very helpful too. A lot of times people just look at the ends and expect the ends to get rush but it’s also a plus to get that push right in front of the quarterback.”
>> Redshirt freshman linebacker Mohamed Barry is consistently one of the last players off the practice field as he often spends time after practice to work on his coverage and ball skills. Barry hasn’t yet cracked the rotation on defense, but Bray said he is making strides.
“He’s getting better, and he’s learning,” Bray said. “The biggest thing for him is the learning process and understanding that it takes time to perfect it because he has an idea and he knows, but it’s not something where it’s not a thought process yet. So that’s where we’re working to get and he gets better every week and he keeps working at it.”
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.