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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Resurgent Nebraska Defense Stops Indiana with Lockdown Second Half

October 02, 2022

With a clean slate came resurgence.

Nebraska interim head coach Mickey Joseph announced a coaching change the day after a lop-sided loss to Oklahoma. Bill Busch took over as defensive coordinator and, in his ascension, Joey Connors fill Busch’s former role as special teams coordinator. At that time the Huskers’ defense ranked No. 128 in the country by allowing 514 yards per game. That was after allowing 642 yards to Georgia Southern and 580 to Oklahoma.

With the benefit of a bye, Busch went to work. Coaches simplified the defense. Joseph said he didn’t want to “coach the athleticism out” of players and trusted Busch in the shuffle. The decision paid off on Saturday. Nebraska’s reengineered defense allowed a season-low 290 total yards and just two offensive touchdowns to Indiana in a 35-21 win.

Team captain edge rusher Garrett Nelson was asked what about the defense was so different. He laughed before formulating the words.

“Just with the cohesiveness of what we’ve been doing, kind of getting everybody on the same page with what we’re doing, the fits and mentality-wise, what we are as a defense and finding that,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a great win. We showed what we can do. Now we just have to carry it over to the coming weeks.”

Nebraska forced a 3-and-out on their opening drive for the first time all season. They did it again, marking the second time all year they’d forced consecutive 3-and-outs (North Dakota). The Huskers accomplished that three separate times on Saturday.

Indiana’s uptempo offense scored on its final two drives of the first half. Before that the Hoosiers managed 94 yards on six drives. The two scoring drives went for 75 and 70 yards, respectively, and neither took 3 minutes.

Freshman Malcolm Hartzog started at cornerback, Omar Brown moved to nickel and the Huskers flew to the ball. Still, those two Indiana scores and a touchdown from the Hoosier defense sent the two teams into halftime even.

“Tonight was simple for us,” defensive back Quinton Newsome said. “(Busch) makes it so we don’t have to do too much when formation changes, this and that. He really simplified it and it allowed us to play faster.”

Nebraska’s defense went into halftime a changed unit compared to its previous performances and came out a pulverizing force. Luke Reimer blew a coverage and still went to the right place at the right time to deliver a hit and grab the loose ball. The Huskers forced three more three-and-outs in the second half to go along with 0 points. In fact, Indiana managed just 71 total yards in the second half.

“It’s just a testament to all of us and just really honing in after that bye week of just locking in, getting our calls in, getting our feet set and playing football,” Reimer said afterwards. “We’re Division I athletes, we’re pretty good at playing football. So just getting our feet set and playing.”

That was a message directly taken from Joseph. He told players that throughout the week and shared it with the Big Ten Network crew before kickoff.

Indiana struggled to run the ball against the Huskers, tallying 67 yards on the ground. Neither of the Hoosiers’ top two receivers dressed for the game and none of the remaining receivers hauled in more than 57 yards on Saturday.

The defense especially put the clamps down in the final quarter. Indiana had the ball for just 3 minutes, 54 seconds of the fourth quarter and managed only 5 yards on 12 plays.

That allowed the Husker offense to find its rhythm once again. Quarterback Casey Thompson lobbed a 71-yard bomb to Trey Palmer to take the lead and Anthony Grant’s legs ate up yards and time on the following drive to put the game away. Thompson finished with 270 yards and a touchdown, completing 18 of 27. Palmer caught eight of his nine targets for a career-high 157 yards and his second touchdown as a Husker. Oliver Martin’s 34-yard touchdown catch on the opening drive was his first of the year. Grant finished with 136 yards on 32 carries.

Special teams also found success. Chris Kolarevic blocked an Indiana punt and Hartzog ran it in for 30 yards for a special teams score in the second quarter.

“My eyes got big and I knew I had to get to the ball,” Hartzog said. “I had to get into the end zone. I don’t play offense no more so I knew I had to get in there somehow.”

Start to finish, however, Nebraska’s new-era defense gave the Huskers a chance to win. Reimer, Nick Henrich, Quinton Newsome and Isaac Gifford all led the defense with five tackles. Nelson tallied a career high with 2.0 sacks.

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