The injury happened against Purdue.
Nebraska nickel defender and outside linebacker JoJo Domann hurt his left hand against the Boilermakers, he said on his podcast ‘The Beat’, but finished the game regardless. Faced with a decision to get season-ending surgery on the hand or tough it out for one more game with the risk of injuring it more, Domann—a sixth-year senior who used the NCAA-granted extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic to return for the 2021 season—chose to play another game.
That game came against the Ohio State Buckeyes, who possessed the highest-scoring offense in the country. Domann’s performance against the Buckeyes—nine tackles, two pass breakups, one interception and one tackle for loss—was maybe his best as a Husker. Then on Thursday afternoon, fans learned it was his last as a Husker, too.
Domann took to Twitter to announce that he had surgery on the injured left hand and that he won’t be playing in Nebraska’s final two games against Wisconsin and Iowa.
— JoJo Domann (@TheDomannator) November 11, 2021
Domann ends his stellar career at Nebraska with 209 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 18 passes defended and nine forced fumbles. His outing against the Buckeyes will go down as one of his best performances in a game, and one that NFL scouts should take a look at.
We’ve gathered some of Domann’s plays he made against Ohio State and broke them down to give you an idea of what kind of player and diverse asset the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Domann was to Nebraska’s defense.
Tackling in space
Let’s start with the example above, Domann’s ability to tackle in space. Ohio State was faced with a third-and-6 from the Husker 8-yard line. The Buckeyes come out in 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) and want to get the ball to one of their playmakers, freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson, in space to the flats.
Ohio State floods the field, or long side, with three routes in hopes of confusing defenders on who takes who. Domann passes off wideout Chris Olave (#2) because corner Cam Taylor-Britt takes the deeper of the three routes. That leaves a one-on-one situation between Domann and Henderson, which Ohio State most likely wanted, because, well, it’s really hard to tackle a Division I running back in space.
But Domann does just that. He even slides on his right knee to help slow his momentum so he could wrap up Henderson until the help—in this case, linebacker Nick Henrich—could arrive.
Backside rundown (with some help from Garrett Nelson)
The backside rundown has sort of turned into an every-week occurrence for Domann, not just this season, but the past couple. Keep in mind Domann recorded 25.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in his career, and most of them came on plays exactly like this, on the example above.
Ohio State has a first-and-10 at the Husker 34-yard line and come out with 11 personnel. Credit Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on this play, because it looks as if Domann is blitzing at the snap, instead of reading and reacting. Whether it was a blitz or not, Domann did an excellent job of following the pulling guard and tight end on the counter run that went for a 2-yard loss.
Also, check out outside linebacker Garrett Nelson on this play. He takes on pulling guard Paris Johnson Jr. and stones him, which forces Henderson to straighten his path—right into Domann. It was Nelson (6-3, 245 pounds) vs. Johnson (6-6, 315) and Nelson won.
One of the reasons why Domann was so valuable to the defense is because he’s a solid tackler in the box, but also has the ability to stick on receivers despite his 230-pound frame. The play above shows that.
In the example above, Ohio State has the ball at its own 41-yard line. It’s first-and-10. Nebraska’s defense is in man coverage with two deep safeties. Caleb Tannor, an outside linebacker who is usually rushing the passer with his hand in the turf, is instead spying quarterback CJ Stroud in case he pulls the ball down and runs (which, throughout the season, hasn’t happened much; he’s a throw-first quarterback).
Domann gets matched up with Buckeye tight end Jeremy Ruckert. Ruckert is a big target at 6-5, 250 pounds, and tries to use his size to cross the face of Domann to the middle of the field. Domann was athletic enough to undercut the pass and bat the ball away with his right hand while leaving his feet and fully extending to make the play. It was an incredible play from Domann.
Domann is a playmaker, although he’d be the first to tell you that he should have had his interception a few plays before he actually recorded it. The example below was the first opportunity he had to pick off Stroud, who tries to fit a pass to Julian Fleming (#4):
But, later on that drive, Stroud tested Domann again. That time, Domann picked him off. The footwork that Domann displayed on his interception was next-level stuff:
On the play, Ohio State sends wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba in motion, then brings him back. That motion gives Smith-Njigba a head of steam, but Domann still manages to run with him. Smith-Njigba runs to the first-down marker and turns around, expecting the ball. But like he did against Ruckert, Domann was able to step in front of the receiver and get the interception.
Who’s the next nickel?
Nebraska will miss Domann, who did a lot of different things for the Blackshirts. With Domann out, that leaves a hole in Chinander’s unit. Who fills it? That’s hard to say.
Coaches don’t like to drastically change what they do. They’re creatures of habit and believe in what they do and how they do it, so it could be a next-man-up situation against Wisconsin and Iowa. In that case, look for 6-1, 205-pound second-year freshman Isaac Gifford, an in-state product from nearby Lincoln Southeast High School, to get reps at the nickel when Wisconsin or Iowa put one or no tight ends on the field, which is when the Huskers counter with their nickel look. Both the Badgers and Hawkeyes will use multiple tight-end sets, however, so these might not be the best games for the Huskers’ nickel package.
If not Gifford, the Huskers could go with a safety to fill the role. If Deontai Williams is healthy enough to return, and Frost is on record saying he won’t be out for the season after suffering an injury against Minnesota, Myles Farmer could get his number called. Farmer has started in Williams’ absence since the Minnesota game.
Another player that could be an option to fill the role, though, not this season but in the future, is Javin Wright. Wright, a dynamic 6-4, 210-pound athlete from Arizona, is out of the season after undergoing successful surgery to fix a second blood clot.
Wright showed what he could do this past spring:
How about this snag from Javin Wright (@javinW33).
More from Nebraska practice tonight at 10 on @KETV.
— Matt Lothrop (@MattLothrop7) April 17, 2021