Laviska Shenault's Versatility Will Test Nebraska Secondary
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Laviska Shenault’s Versatility Will Test Nebraska Secondary

September 04, 2019

Nebraska got a chance to work off some offseason rust in week one against South Alabama, an opportunity not afforded to the Huskers last season thanks to Mother Nature having a bad day. This week, however, the competition takes a significant step up as the Huskers travel to Colorado.

“I told the guys ‘Hey, take my hat off to the team, nobody will talk bad about a team, but you should have beat them,’” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “‘You should have beat them, you should have beat them worst than that. But this team is different. This team beat you last year, so it’s a different approach. We owe them one.’”

The Buffaloes went to Lincoln and handed the Huskers a 33-28 loss last season in the first game of the Scott Frost era (a kickoff against Akron doesn’t count).

Nebraska shut down Colorado’s run game but the Buffaloes lit the Huskers up through the air with 351 yards passing. Fisher called the wide receiver group the strength of the team.

“They’ve got a nice group,” Fisher said. “I can’t say enough about those guys. I think they work very well together. You can put them in different spots, so we’re going to have to know exactly where those guys are.”

K.D. Nixon (52 catches, 636 yards, four touchdowns) and Tony Brown (32 catches, 333 yards, one touchdown) are both back for the Buffaloes, but there’s one guy in particular the Huskers will have to be painfully aware of at all times: senior do-it-all threat Laviska Shenault Jr. In last year’s meeting, he caught 10 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, and he chipped in a rushing touchdown as well.

“They’re pretty tough, they know how to play their game and they’re very physical, especially No. 2 [Shenault],” sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt said. “He’s going to come out there and try to break tackles and go up high for every ball. They’re going to try to lay out and put it all on the line, but we have to come out and play our game and Blackshirt defense.”

As a junior last season, Shenault played in nine games and caught 86 passes for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran the ball 17time for 115 yards and five more scores.

Last week against Colorado State, Shenault caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown and ran the ball three times for 35 yards. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Shenault is a match-up nightmare.

“You can put him anywhere,” Fisher said. “You can put him in the backfield, you can put him in the slot, you can put him out wide, you can motion him. You can do a lot of things. When he touches the ball he’s a running back. When he’s blocking, he’s a tight end. So you can do a lot of things with him. I think he is very versatile, a very good football player, he catches the ball very well, he’s very talented and he’s a great competitor too.”

Taylor-Britt said the coaches have been hammering home the importance of know where he is and then wrapping him up instead of going for the big hit. Eric Lee Jr. said where Shenault lines up “can tell the whole story.”

“Know where he’s at at all times,” Fisher said. “Know if he’s on the field, know if he’s off the field, know everything about him — first name, last name, where he went to high school, know everything about him, what he likes to eat … Have some urgency when you line up across form that guy, because he’s a very good football player.”

Shenault is difficult to deal with, but Fisher said his secondary has the versatility to match up. The Huskers have size at outside corner in Lamar Jackson (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), speed on the other side in Dicaprio Bootle, physicality in Marquel Dismuke and Taylor-Britt who can play all over the field and follow Shenault wherever he goes.

“We also do the same thing on the defense in the back end,” Fisher said. “We have some guys in certain spots this week. At the end of the day, it’s all about film study, knowing exactly where the weapons are at on the field and making the most of the opportunities when they come.”

One of the biggest plays of the game against South Alabama showcased that flexibility as Taylor-Britt slid over to safety on the play where he blitzed and sacked quarterback Cephus Johnson, forcing a fumble that Alex Davis recovered in the end zone.

“Actually on that play I just kind of moved him last minute,” Fisher said. “I had enough time to make an adjustment and I kind of moved him last minute. I felt like it would be a better fit on that play and I saw it coming, so I just moved him on that play.”

That match-up between Nebraska’s secondary and Shenault could be what decides the game on Saturday. Erik Chinander called him arguably the best receiver in the country, and Frost called him one of the top receivers he’s ever coached against. If the Huskers can keep him in check — something they weren’t able to do a year ago — it will show that the defensive success against the Jaguars was more than just one good game.

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