Nebraska football’s edge rushers came up with the team’s first sacks of the season on Saturday.
Team captain Garrett Nelson had the first, a strip sack in the third quarter that allowed the Huskers to go up double-digits. Highly-touted transfer Ochaun Mathis claimed the next one in the fourth quarter, a big help in stalling a North Dakota drive that had moved past midfield. Nebraska was up a touchdown at that point, and once again, the Huskers paid off the stop with an offensive score to widen the advantage.
Opponent aside, it was a welcome sight for the team, given the group’s expectations and the lack of sacks and general pressure on the quarterback in the season opener. Mathis credited his team’s preparation for the in-game success.
“They allowed us to get into the backfield by doing a lot of passing, drop back passes and stuff like that, allowing us to actually read the pass,” Mathis said in a Tuesday press conference. “We had a good familiar look on how the o-line looks, before they get into pass formations and stuff like that. So looking at their steps or their stances and whatever kind of helped us get off the ball faster.”
North Dakota quarterback Tommy Schuster threw the ball 37 times on Saturday, allowing Nebraska plenty of opportunities to get in the backfield. That’ll be the case again in this upcoming game, as Georgia Southern threw the ball 46 times in a game it won by 52.
Mathis appreciates the chance to go up against offenses which air the ball out often.
“I’m able to stretch out my hamstrings, if anything,” he said. “Just get out there and go and fly by the offensive tackle, the offensive lineman, just being able to get off the ball is one thing I was looking for.”
Nebraska’s defense played against Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease last year, coming away with a 28-3 win. Vantrease threw the ball 50 times in that game, and while his performance wasn’t exactly stellar, he was never sacked. He wasn’t taken down at all in Georgia Southern’s season-opening win, either.
Of course, the situation on both sides is different than it was last season, but passing volume alone won’t guarantee sacks. One thing Mathis said does help is that the defense has now gotten some sacks, which can help bring more. That not only can happen within the same game — Mathis got a hand on Schuster again the play after his sack — but across weeks.
“A few people say, once you get one sack, there’s more to come. So just getting that first sack. It don’t even have to be the same game but it’d be better if it was the same game, just get a roll of sacks going on,” Mathis said. “It’s just like this adrenaline you have after your first sack, it just keeps coming.”
That isn’t a rule that fits everyone, but Mathis said he and Nelson both get that feeling. He also said the first sack “taught” him what he needs to do to get in the backfield, and he can replicate it on following plays.
While he didn’t record a sack in the season opener, he made eight tackles against Northwestern. The TCU transfer has been adjusting to not only a new team, but a new conference in the Big Ten.
“Coming in, you’re playing a lot of guys who do things a lot more differently than the guys in the Big 12,” he said. “I’ve gone against these guys in practice often so I got a pretty good picture on those guys and just coming out and just playing newer teams. It’s another whole ballgame.”
Mathis said that adjustment is still a “work in progress,” but he’s making strides. The defense as a whole also is looking to improve, having faced a number of issues in both games so far and giving up 31 points in the season opener. Although the defense is united in its goals and looking to play in sync, Mathis said he and the defensive line are focusing primarily on what they can do at their own position moving forward.
“We try not to focus too much on what’s going on behind us with the other guys because that’s a lot of work to have on your shoulders,” Mathis said. “What we’re doing is trying to play our gaps, play our seams, don’t create vertical seams, make the jobs easier for the linebackers and just play hard.”