Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

More Knock Back Key to Helping ‘Leaky’ Blackshirts Run Defense

November 02, 2021

The Nebraska rush defense has held up for the most part in the 2021 season. The Huskers are middle of the pack in the Big Ten when it comes to yards allowed per game. The team hit a nice stride earlier this season, allowing just 71 yards rushing against Michigan State. The Spartans’ powerful rushing attack led by Kenneth Walker III is tough to slow down. The Huskers then followed up that performance by holding Northwestern to 37 yards on the ground.

Since then Nebraska’s defense has given up 204 yards to Michigan, which is the most allowed this season by the Huskers. The Blackshirts allowed 182 yards the following week against Minnesota. Against Purdue? Nebraska allowed 116 rushing yards but that number is deceiving. The Boliermakers came into the game averaging just 73 yards a game on the ground.

Needless to say, the run defense has been a little leaky. However, that is a word that outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson doesn’t mind at the moment.

“At times, it is a little bit leaky,” Dawson said on Tuesday. “What that leads to is instead of putting yourself in position to be in third and long where you can really tee it up and rush the passer, now you’re getting yourself into third and medium or third and shorts. We’re either going to come up with a big run stop or you’re in a 50-50 down where you got to play the run or the pass. So, you’d like to see it [improve] for that reason.”

Dawson added that what goes into playing great defense in the run game is that you have to have low pad level. You also have to be able to knock people back in the interior. Setting the edge with defensive ends and outside linebackers is important. The inside linebackers being able to fight through blocks and tackle is also key.

“I think if I could correct something from the last couple of games [it would be] those tackles that at the beginning of the year were getting knocked back,” Dawson said. “Now we’ve had a couple where we’re kind of on an edge leaning. That allows getting an extra yard to leak out on that. I’d like to see a little bit more knock back with our tackling and that’s something that we’ve had to recalibrate and refocus. We’ve been talking a lot about it even in the last couple days.”

This is a good time to fix that aspect of Nebraska’s defense. Ohio State is coming to town with a good offensive line and talented running backs. The Buckeyes are well coached up with great size and athleticism, according to Dawson. The running backs, led by TreVeyon Henderson, have the Huskers’ attention.

“In the run game, they have a stable full of running backs,” Dawson said. “Those young guys they pretty much have a whole season behind them now. They’re not so young as they were in the beginning of the year, if that makes sense. They are very well coached and they do a great job.”

The Huskers have to find their play from earlier in the season to slow down the Buckeyes’ rushing attack. That lost leaky yardage will result in opening up the playbook even more for the Buckeyes. That’s when all the talent on the outside can be even more dangerous.

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