Nebraska has reached the midway point of its shortened week as the Huskers continue to prepare for Friday’s game at Illinois. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said that the disparity between the Illini coming off of a bye week while Nebraska played on Saturday is strange, but there is one benefit to it.
“One thing that’s good is we don’t get to over-think anything,” Diaco said. “So we don’t get to spend a lot of time painstaking away at what to do here and there. We just have to go. We just finished playing it feels like about 48 hours ago.”
Diaco is speaking particularly about the potential for Illinois to use two quarterbacks, which it did in a 47-23 loss to South Florida in week three. However, Diaco said regardless of who is behind center, the system is the same.
Junior linebacker Luke Gifford, who entered the season listed as a second-stringer, played every snap on defense last week against Rutgers and has become one of Nebraska’s most indispensable defenders.
“Luke, having never really played a lot of football now, is a guy that we really don’t want to bring out of the game,” Diaco said. “He’s a stalwart out there, he’s a multi-jobs player, he’s got a lot of tangible skill and intangible skill. He’s long and quick and fast. Smart, football intelligent, he studies, he cares, he’s contact-tough, so there are a lot of elements there. He’s played both, to the field and the boundary.
The other outside linebacker spot has been ravaged by injuries with Marcus Newby and Tyrin Ferguson both going down with injuries, and to make up for that Diaco has used a handful of different players in a variety of ways including redshirt freshman Ben Stille, sophomore Alex Davis and junior Sedrick King.
“It’s been a lot of guys that we’ve been rapping and they just keep getting better and better,” Diaco said. “Marcus, he’s played a bunch and has been out now, and Tyrin played a bunch at the end of a game and the beginning of a game. He was out, and that created Collin Miller now getting a ton of reps in practice and doing a nice job with that.”
“We’re down in the depth and that’s not a bad thing for a developing group, a developing defense, a developing position.”
Nebraska got a big boost on Tuesday as senior cornerback Chris Jones, recovering from an offseason meniscus surgery, made his return to the practice field in a limited fashion.
“It’s great to see Chris feeling better and doing well and being engaged with the team,” Diaco said. “Like everybody knew, he was one of the best players in the league and one of the best players in the country at his position, so to be without him, everybody’s rallied and circled the wagons. But it sure is nice to see him more engaged, for him.”
After practice, Jones sent out a message on Twitter.
Thank you huskernation for your prayers and words of encouragement, it’s time to further prepare to play with my brothers again 🙏🏾 #☠️☠️☠️☠️ pic.twitter.com/ZLwWPqdKcM
— Chris Jones (@Joneschosen1) September 27, 2017
On the other side of the ball, true freshman Brenden Jaimes made his collegiate debut starting at right tackle after injury knocked out starter David Knevel and primary backup Matt Farniok
“It was just a great experience for me to get on the field and play with some upperclassmen,” Jaimes said. “It really brought me down to earth, showed that I’m not the biggest and baddest on the field any more and I just needed to be really humbled by that.”
Jaimes wasn’t the only offensive lineman who got his first start against Rutgers, however, as redshirt sophomore Michael Decker took over for the injured Cole Conrad at center.
“I think I did pretty well,” Decker said. “I think I did a good job with leverage for the most part. I think towards the end I could have done better, but overall I think I did well with communication back on the sidelines and making sure that we stayed on top of the stuff they did in-game.”
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.