It was short and sweet this week for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander when he met with the media Tuesday. He only held court for about four minutes. Mostly, it’s the same as last week. A little good, a little bad.
“I don’t know,” he started when asked about what jumped out about the Troy film from Saturday. “You can look at some things and say it’s good. I think they had like four first downs in the first half and two were from penalties.”
There were also the sacks, and the first interception of the season and another solid outing against the run, but like Nebraska’s season-opening loss to Colorado, it was hard to look past the little details that have led to big problems.
“The 17 points we gave up on defense, each of those three drives contained an [explosive] play which is something we’ve got to eliminate,” he said. “They were all assignment errors … A couple little details led to us giving up points.”
The two that immediately jumped to mind were, naturally, Troy’s largest plays of the game. On the Trojans’ second possession of the game, wideout Damion Willis got free down the sideline and picked up a 39-yard gain through the air that would later set up a field goal for Troy’s first points.
“Didn’t get the proper alignment, beaten by alignment to begin with,” Chinander said.
The next was on Troy’s first touchdown drive in the second quarter. Backup quarterback Sawyer Smith rumbled 57 yards to put the Trojans in scoring position.
“They had some elements of triple-option football in the spread and we had a guy on the pitch, two on the dive and nobody on the quarterback so an assignment error there,” Chinander said.
“We can’t make those mistakes. Anytime there’s a backup quarterback in, a new quarterback — whether it’s Adrian’s first game or the backup’s in and it’s Brett Favre or me — you’ve got to be pretty perfect on defense and we weren’t good enough.”
Against Michigan (2-1), Nebraska will have to be even better. Coach Scott Frost said Monday the Huskers will have to play perfectly to beat the 19th-ranked Wolverines on the road. Inside linebacker coach Barrett Ruud said their offense will be a test given its one of the few truly pro-style looks they’ll get all season. Chinander said some of the same.
“They can get in 11-personnel and run some of the spread stuff but they can also get into 21 and 22 and 23 and 13 and 12 and bring a lot of big boys at you and pound the rock,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of them running the football.
“But, with that being said, the DBs have to have their eyes right because it’s going to be ‘pound the rock, pound the rock, pound the rock, bombs away.’ That’s where they get their big chunks so you’ve got to have a good plan to defend the run but also get those DBs in a spot where they can defend the deep ball.”
Safety Tre Neal, a graduate transfer from Central Florida and a member of that 2016 team that Frost and Co. rebuilt, said Monday their Week 2 loss at Michigan on Sept. 10, 2016, served as a turning point of sorts for their team. Asked about those comments Tuesday, Chinander said that was when the Knights started to believe.
“We went up there and we played really well against the run, I thought,” he said. “We gave up some big balls against the pass but I think at that point they understood that we could play with anybody. I thought they were a really, really good football team that year, I think they’re a really, really good football team this year so this is going to be a good test for us to be able to stop the run, also a good test for us just as a defense and a team.
“We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves this week.”
Other news and notes
>> Safety Aaron Williams became the eighth member of the defense to receive a Blackshirt on Monday.
“He’s done a good job ever since he’s been back from his injury,” Chinander said. “Practice-wise, he’s played pretty well the last few weeks and we thought he kind of took over that spot and he came in with some leadership.”
>> Safety JoJo Domann was not dressed for practice. Running back Maurice Washington has participated both on Monday and Tuesday.
>> Nebraska’s coaching staff wasn’t really pleased with linebacker Mohamed Barry’s ejection on Saturday. Barry was called for targeting in the first quarter, the play was reviewed and confirmed and Barry was tossed.
“It’s getting harder and harder to play defense, we all know, but the rules are the rules,” Chinander said. “I don’t make the rules, I don’t have to like them but I have to play by them and so does everybody else. I don’t think you can lose the aggressiveness, but you’ve got to do a great job of knowing when and where [guys are in defenseless positions]. It used to be everybody wanted to cap off the pile on every big run play and now it’s just getting harder and harder to do it.
“The targeting on Mo [Barry], you look at it and did he hit head-to-head? Absolutely. Was it intentional? No way. You look at it from behind, from the tight copy and he’s trying to make sure the ball-carrier is down. So, you are walking a fine line. Obviously, we’ve got to find a way to be as aggressive as we can be and also clean up the penalties.”
Ruud said virtually the exact same. He told Barry he was with Seattle Seahawks defensive back Cam Chancellor during his rookie season and said he actually lost money because of all the fines he racked up from hits. The position coach told Barry it’s something you have to learn from.
>> Cornerback Lamar Jackson said he knows a few of Michigan's receivers from high school camps, especially sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones. He said he's making sure to do a little extra this week to prepare for that match-up.
>> After an up-and-down start to his career for freshman kicker Barret Pickering, special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt was asked if the kicking competition has opened back up.
"It's always a battle," he said. "Every single day. Every day there's going to be a competition for every position on the field, specialists included."
Pickering is 2-for-4 on field goal attempts with his career-long coming from 32 yards out.
Greg Smith and Jacob Padilla contributed to this report.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.