Minnesota's Recruiting at a Glance
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Defense Still Searching for that Complete Game

October 23, 2018

Two plays stood out to Erik Chinander when he watched the game film from the Minnesota win — a first-half pass-back out of the Wildcat and a 69-yard tunnel screen in the second half. Both easily correctable plays, but big plays the Huskers don’t want to give up.

Other than that, he said Tuesday when he met with the media, guys were assignment-sound, created some momentum plays and got stops when they needed to get stops.

“The biggest thing, we got put in bad positions a couple times with field position — which happens, that’s football — but the difference was this game the guys said, ‘Guys this is our chance, this is a challenge, let’s go get this thing,’ and it wasn’t me out there saying it, it was the guys,” he said. “They’re embracing what it takes to be a good defense.

“We’re not a great defense yet, by far, we have a long ways to go, but they’re starting to embrace the things that make you a good defense.”

The next step is finding that complete game that has continued to elude the Husker defense. Chinander felt his unit got closer to it last Saturday, but they’re still “a country mile” away.

After Nebraska took a 28-0 lead, Minnesota answered with 22 points of its own to cut the lead to six and make Memorial Stadium a little anxious. Nebraska got stops from then on to put the game to bed and earn win No. 1 but now it’s time for win No. 2, and that means focusing on the 22-point run instead of the 28-point run.

That means trying to put everything together.

“What has to happen to get there is we can’t give up silly plays by ‘We’re tired, not making the right check,’” Chinander said. “By, ‘we’re tired, losing technique.’ You watch the pass-rush and while we don’t have a great pass-rush yet, it’s still one guy does it right on this rep and the other three guys don’t and then the other three guys do it right and he doesn’t.

“The pass rush works together with the coverage, the coverage works with the pass-rush and I don’t think we’ve got it all dialed up yet. The one time we did, we got a sack. We still need to get all 11 players, one team one heartbeat, everybody beating the same drum and playing together.”

Part of that complete game needs to come with help from the offense. Playing with a lead, as the Huskers did early on last Saturday can do wonders for Chinander’s ability to harass on defense. “That’s the nature of the beast with this system,” he said.

He doesn’t want boat races where both teams are playing “Who can get the ball last” and he doesn’t want to be in a situation where the offense can’t move the ball and the defense gets exposed because it’s on the field too much.

In Bethune-Cookman (4-4), the Huskers will find a team that can put points on the scoreboard in a hurry if things are clicking. “They present some of the same challenges as our own offense, they’re going to spread the field,” Chinander said. And that offense has produced games of 79 points, 41 points and 35 points twice this season.

“They’re embracing the fact that we’re not taking a day off because [BCU doesn’t present a challenge,” Chinander said. “I think Bethune-Cookman’s a good football team and they better think Bethune-Cookman’s a good football team, because they are.”

Other News and Notes

>> There was Blackshirt news Tuesday. Lamar Jackson, Tre Neal, Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis joined eight other Huskers with black practice jerseys. Ben Stille was offered but turned it down.

>> Defensive line coach Mike Dawson said senior defensive lineman Mick Stoltenberg is getting close but they’re going to be smart. The last thing the staff wants to do is risk further injury. Stoltenberg went through portions of practice again Tuesday with a brace over his knee, though practice was pad-free.

Dawson said Stoltenberg is acting like an assistant coach during his time on the shelf. He also said the Gretna native’s pain tolerance is extremely high and he’s working to get back on the field.

“I think the old, 'Pain don't hurt' fits in with him sometimes,” Dawson said. “I know he's going to push as hard as he can. He just wants to be a Cornhusker, and he wants to be out on the field.”

>> The plan with sophomore linebacker Breon Dixon is to use up his remaining games under the redshirt rule. Dixon has yet to appear this season after transferring from Ole Miss, but with five games remaining, Dewitt said the plan is to use him in four of them. Consistency in practice so far, Dewitt says, is the reason Dixon hasn’t seen the field.

>> With sophomore safety JoJo Domann popping up on the depth chart at outside linebacker, there have been plenty of questions about his role.

Chinander said Domann is a guy they don’t have to teach a new position to.

“We can make him that nickel/SAM guy and he doesn’t have to learn that position,” Chinander said. “So, if someone goes 10 personnel and we want to stay closer to base to defend the run a little better, he can jump in there at outside backer and be a good coverage guy for us. Then if we want nickel, he can play that too.”

It’s not a position change, more a role change. Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said he’s not going to let Domann leave his room if he can help it while Dewitt joked they need to get the DB out of Domann.

“Rather than trying to change things schematically, you can change things with some personnel,” Dewitt said of the shakeup. “Sometimes you can put him in there to be in the coverage, especially over the slot or somebody like that, when there’s match-up issues for a normal outside linebacker, and then he’s stout enough — he’s about 222 pounds — so he’s strong enough if he’s got to get nasty and get at the point.

“He’s got to get a little of that DB out of him yet in terms of when we’re going down in the box, but it’s coming along.”

>> On the Big Ten coaches teleconference Tuesday, head coach Scott Frost said there was a darkness around the football program when he took over. After Purdue, they started seeing some light.

“That was a battle, it really was, and you could feel it turn,” Frost said. “They were tired of little things not being done, dumb mistakes, guys not being accountable and the team kinda rejected that type of behavior.

“It’s impossible to get results until you get the culture and mentality of the team right. That’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen.”

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