Nebraska Cornhuskers cornerback Dicaprio Bootle and linebacker JoJo Domann tackle Illinois wide receiver
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Iowa Presents a Big Challenge for Nebraska, and Improvement Begins on Third Downs

November 24, 2020

Let’s talk third downs, shall we?

It was a big piece of the conversations on Tuesday with offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. It’s hard not to put some focus on it when both sides of the ball are struggling.

Starting with the defense, the Huskers have faced 6.5 third-and-short attempts per game, ranking the team third-worst nationally. Nebraska is also allowing 53.97% of third down conversions, putting the team last in the Big Ten by 6%. Illinois, who just beat Nebraska 41-23, is second to last.

Third downs are a point of emphasis in practice this week as Nebraska prepares to face Iowa on Friday. On the defensive side of things, Chinander knows his group needs to improve on third downs. He noted that Nebraska needs to do a better job of getting opponents into third-and-long situations more often.

Outside linebacker JoJo Domann provided more context on Monday.

“When it’s third-and-short, I think the real problem’s on first and second down,” Domann said. “We’re not getting them in third-and-longs, so that’s probably the biggest issue right there. Just everything in between, just the details on getting pass rush, trusting our pass rush lanes, covering down on defense, making it hard for them on first and second down to convert on third down.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Nebraska has had 3.0 third-and-short attempts per game. That is tied for eighth-worst nationally. Lubick said that the Huskers had two periods dedicated to third downs during Tuesday’s practice. With that said, it’s not new for the team.

“That’s something that we practice all the time,” he said.

Similar to the defense, Lubick said the offense needs to execute better on first and second downs. That will play a big part in correcting the issues the Huskers are seeing on third down.

Nebraska knows a physical Iowa team is ahead.

“They’re good up front, strong, their linebackers run very well,” Lubick said. “They make you earn everything they’ve got. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

A lot of that starts on third down.

More news and notes:

>> How does Nebraska improve its run defense?

“The No. 1 thing that has to be done is eliminating big plays,” Chinander said. “It’s just about everybody doing their job every single play and then up front we got to do a better job tackling.”

>> Matt Farniok said offensive line coach Greg Austin’s messaging this week has been to focus on the small gains that add up: the details.

“Obviously they aren’t good enough because we aren’t winning yet,” he said.

>> Nebraska was going to challenge the play that was ruled a fumble on the first play of the game against Illinois.

“But we were told from the officials that they looked at it,” Lubick said.

>> Omar Manning is day-to-day, according to Lubick. While he’s not been healthy enough to get in the games yet, he has been engaged.

“He was making a lot of progress, he’s just had some health setbacks,” Lubick said said.

>> While the rivalry is pretty new, Chinander did note that Nebraska and Iowa have a “super high” level of rivalry with one another.

“If you can’t get ready for this one, you probably don’t need to be playing college football,” he said.

Chinander went on to say the game is “super, super important” to both Nebraska as a program and as a state.

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