After three solid games where he thought the tackling was really good, Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said he was disappointed in that area against Oklahoma in Saturday’s 23-16 loss.
The tackling will need to improve as the Huskers travel to East Lansing, Michigan, this Saturday to take on the undefeated No. 20 Michigan State Spartans (3-0) and their star running back, Kenneth Walker III, a transfer from Wake Forest who is first in the country in rushing yards with 493.
Walker, who averages 8.65 yards per carry, poses quite the challenge for Nebraska’s defense, Chinander said.
“Obviously he’s put together really well and is an explosive kid,” Chinander said of the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Walker. “He’s going to challenge your leverage. Some of these guys, they want to get the edge and get the ball up the field, but he wants to challenge your leverage and make a cut and really go. There haven’t been a lot of single tackles on this guy, so a lot of hats need to get to the football.”
Michigan State’s offense averages 39.3 points per game this season, which ranks third in the conference. A key to Husker success against the Spartans will be third-down defense. Chinander said the defense needs to be better at getting off the field on the money down, which they’ve been doing at a 42.37% clip, which ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten. The Spartans’ offense is converting third downs 44.12% of the time.
“That’s gotta get better, and some of that is on me, too,” Chinander said.
Along with Walker, Chinander was impressed with Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne and receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Thorne and Reed are high school teammates who have a strong connection, Chinander said. Reed has 12 catches for 277 yards and three touchdowns while Nailor has 10 catches for 141 yards and three scores.
“I think the receivers are good and they’re really dangerous too when they’re throwing up those 50/50 balls,” Chinander said. “I think he’s (reed) had a catch for 75 yards and one for 85, so any time guys are hitting home runs, you always have to know where he’s at and you always have to do a do job of either getting a cloud on him or getting a third player on him, or getting re-route help, but they’re really good receivers and they can make you pay in the pass game.”
More news and notes:
>> Running backs coach Ryan Held confirmed that Gabe Ervin Jr. is out for the season after suffering a patellar tendon injury against Oklahoma. Held said Ervin had surgery on Tuesday.
>> Held said he thought Rahmir Johnson was in a flow against Oklahoma and didn’t want to interrupt that, so he let him roll on Saturday. Held said that he didn’t go into the game with the intention of not getting Markese Stepp any snaps against the Sooners and that Stepp is firmly in the mix at running back.
>> Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said Casey Rogers is “90-95%” ready to go, having had a good Tuesday in practice. While Rogers traveled to Oklahoma last weekend and even dressed for the game, Tuioti felt he was about a week from being ready to play and feels better about the chances of him seeing the field against Michigan State.
>> Chinander doesn’t have a lot of time to look at different stats, but he did make note of Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne’s ability to take care of the ball. Thorne has thrown nine touchdowns—most in the Big Ten—and no interceptions.
“He’s efficient with the football,” Chinander said.
>> Jay Johnson was Colorado’s offensive coordinator when Mel Tucker was the head coach of the Buffaloes, and he came to East Lansing when Tucker got the job. Chinander said he respects what the Spartans do offensively, and they do it well.
“They do what they do and they’re going to get really good at it,” he said. “Then they’ll have complimentary plays off their base runs and passes.”
>> Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said that while there was plenty of positives to the game with Oklahoma, the penalties and red-zone offense needed to be better. The Huskers committed eight penalties for 70 yards and scored points on only two of its four trips to the red zone.
>> Ben Stille said Deontre Thomas had his best game as a Husker against Oklahoma. What did Thomas think about that?
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Thomas said. “We were just preparing all week. We prepared hard all week. We know we practice like we play. When you practice that hard, you go into to the game feeling good and confident. When I went out there, I felt good and confident because practice play and preparation.”