The story of Saturday’s 27-17 win over Rutgers was the personification of the “next man up” philosophy as the Huskers had back-ups (and third-stringers) throughout their lineup yet still managed to take down the Scarlet Knights.
Among those reserves stepping up were redshirt sophomore center Michael Decker and true freshman tackle Brenden Jaimes.
“He was good — he had one he got beat around the edge on a play and gave up a hit, but I thought for the most part, being a true freshman, going in there and playing in the Big Ten, it was encouraging,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said abut Jaimes.
“I thought Decker was really sharp," Langsdorf continued. “I thought he was an excellent communicator on the sideline with the looks that we were seeing. I thought he did a nice job of identifying the defensive front and making good calls, and then communicating on the sideline with the rest of them, how he was seeing it, how we were seeing it with [offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh], and I thought he did a really nice job that way.”
Cavanaugh echoed Langsdorf’s thought’s on the line’s performance.
“The guys did a good job,” Cavanaugh said. “They were physical, they just kept grinding. We had some new guys in there with Decker in there and Jaimes so they did a good job and stayed after it. They had to make some adjustments that were really good. Decker saw things and talked right away and related to past teams … He was really good.”
The Huskers racked up 197 yards rushing and did not give up a sack on Saturday.
“I thought we ran the ball consistently,” Langsdorf said. “For the most part we were good at protection; I thought there were a couple things… Mikale [Wilbon] saved us on a couple protections, that was really good. I think continuing to lessen the hits on the quarterback — we didn’t have any sacks but we had hits. We have to continue to make sure we keep the quarterback clean in the pocket and fewest hits possible. I think overall, the fact that we were able to protect pretty well and were able to run, I think that was encouraging and I thought that the freshman and the newcomers played pretty well.”
However, after the game, Coach Mike Riley said Nebraska is going to need a better performance from the passing game moving forward. Quarterback Tanner Lee completed just 13 of his 26 passes for 109 yards and threw two more interceptions.
During his Monday press conference, Riley said Lee has to make better choices, and Langsdorf touched on one way for him to do that.
“I think it’s just really about identifying coverage, making sure we get the clues on rotation and safety alignment is big,” Langsdorf said. “That’s a continuous drill that we have to work daily and that comes on film study, that comes at practice, it’s really gathering the information pre-snap and then reacting post-snap.”
In Lee’s defense, he was also down his top two split-ends in leading receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. and his primary back-up Bryan Reimers, both of whom missed the game with injuries. Lee was throwing to a diverse group of pass-catchers, some of whom had not seen the field before Saturday.
“I think the communication was pretty good,” Langsdorf said. “I thought that the timing just needs a little work with some new faces. We had [Brett] Classen go in there and give us some reps, so there’s always that part of it when you're not running with the one group. I thought they blocked well, they made a few plays, and then there were a couple they probably left out there. At the same time, for guys that haven’t played much, kind of like the line, it was encouraging to see those guys go in there, know what’s going on, line up correctly and make some plays.”
The Huskers are hopeful that Morgan and other injured starters will be able to return, but with one less day to prepare this week it will likely go down to the wire for some of the players. Next up is Illinois on Friday, and Langsdorf compared this year’s team to the one they saw last season.
“They’ve got really good speed, that shows up again,” Langsdorf said. “I think the defensive ends last year, veteran guys, gave us some problems. I think this year’s group, the two D-ends that are freshmen are also good players. I don’t know if they’re at the caliber of the drafted guys last year, but they’ve got good team speed; you can see that all across the board. They do a nice job. They’re not going to give you a tremendous amount of looks but they’re going to run hard and hit. They’re going to come off of a bye so we have to expect some wrinkles in there that we probably haven’t seen. Overall, it’s a good defense.”
Langsdorf said that sustaining drives will be a big key on Friday and that starts with first down. The Huskers found success on the ground o early downs last week but need to improve through the air.
“I thought that our production on first down runs was good,” Langsdorf said. “I think that gets our drive going. I think it gets us in a better second down and then third down situation. But we also need those first down completions, we need to be able to get those chunk plays. We need to get some of those big hits — they don’t have to be deep balls, but they have to be completions and be able to get the defense to soften up a little bit and worry about the pass more so that we can run better.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.