The Snap Count: The Huskers' Defensive Personnel Against Rutgers
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Snap Count: The Huskers’ Defensive Personnel Against Rutgers

September 28, 2017

Let's have some more fun with snap counts, shall we? After the Northern Illinois game, I broke down every defensive play to get snap counts and positions for each player, and I learned that the Huskers were going to have to make some big adjustments against Rutgers based on injuries to the defense.

With both Marcus Newby and Tyrin Ferguson on the shelf and Luke Gifford the only outside linebacker left who played a significant amount of snaps standing up, Nebraska was either going to have to go deep into its bench or play less base. Diaco chose the former.

Against Northern Illinois, Nebraska was in nickel or dime on just six of its 54 snaps and played with four down linemen on 16 snaps. Throughout the first three games, Nebraska played base defense much more than anything else.

That changed on Saturday, however, as Nebraska only played its base 3-4 defense on 16 of its 53 snaps against Rutgers. The Huskers played in a 4-3 on 20 snaps and in nickel on 17 snaps.

Defensive Line

Name Snap Count Breakdown
Carlos Davis, SO 53 31 DT, 17 DE, 5 NT
Freedom Akinmoladun, JR 28 25 DE, 3 DT
Khalil Davis, SO 25 18 DE, 7 DT
Mick Stoltenberg, JR 20 10 NT, 10 DT
Deontre Thomas, FR 18 11 DT, 7 NT

Once again, Carlos Davis played every snap on defense, an impressive feat for a 295-pound man. He spent most of his time at boundary defensive end in a three-man front and at boundary defensive tackle with four down linemen, but Diaco moved him around a bit in nickel packages. Davis moved inside to the nose tackle position on five of his snaps, and he moved over to rush from the field defensive tackle spot in four-man front nickel packages.

"Carlos Davis was a physical force, both in playing the run and rushing the quarterback," Coach Mike Riley said at his weekly Monday press conference.

The other four linemen split time pretty evenly, which is impressive for the young second-stringers who both got five more snaps than they did last week. 

Linebackers

Name Snap Count Breakdown
Luke Gifford, JR 53 41 OLB, 11 DE, 1 MLB
Dedrick Young II, JR 48 26 OLB, 12 ILB, 10 MLB
Chris Weber, SR 43 16 MLB, 15 OLB, 12 ILB
Sedrick King, JR 19 10 DE, 9 OLB
Ben Stille, FR 17 10 DE, 7 OLB
Alex Davis, SO 15 15 DE
Mohamed Barry, SO 15 8 ILB, 7 OLB

After playing all but five snaps last week, Diaco couldn't take Luke Gifford off the field in this one. With Newby and Ferguson holding down the field side, Gifford played primarily at the boundary outside linebacker spot last week. With both of those players on the shelf, Gifford moved back to the Dog position and played 38 snaps on that side of the field. Gifford equalled his total from a week ago of 11 snaps with his hand in the dirt in a four-man front. He even lined up at middle linebacker between Chris Weber and Dedrick Young II on one snap. Gifford's versatilty has turned him into Nebraska's most important linebacker.

"Luke Gifford had one of his very best football games as a Husker," Riley said.

For the second straight week, Sedrick King played more snaps than Alex Davis despite Davis being listed ahead of King on the depth chart. King split his snaps almost evenly between standing up as a Cat linebacker (nine) and putting his hand in the dirt as a boundary defensive end (10). 

As for Davis, this will likely be my last time listing him with the linebacker group as he played all of his snaps on the line for the second straight week. In fact, it looks like Davis is being used as a pass-rusher in nickel packages as all 15 of his snaps came with five defensive backs on the field (10 with four linemen and five with three).

Redshirt freshman Ben Stille moved back to linebacker from defensive end the Wednesday prior to the game and saw significant playing time on defense for the first time, holding his own. He played 10 snaps at end and seven at 'backer.

At this stage, the coaches are starting to develop consistent roles within certain sub-packes and formations for the players.

"I thought that our defensive staff, Coach Diaco and the group, he used them wisely in situational football during the game," Riley said, referring to the front seven in particular.

Secondary

Name Snap Count Breakdown
Lamar Jackson, SO 53 53 FCB
Antonio Reed, JR 51 51 BS
Kieron Williams, SR 44 44 FS
Eric Lee Jr., SO 40 23 BCB, 17 Nickel CB
Dicaprio Bootle, FR 30 30 BCB
Aaron Williams, JR 9 9 FS
Marquel Dismuke, FR 2 2 BS

For the first time this season, Nebraska played more than six defensive backs. However, it took an ejection for them to get there. Nine snaps in, junior safety Aaron Williams – one of two defenders to play all 54 snaps last week – was whistled for targeting and had to leave the game. Senior Kieron Williams stepped in for him after not playing on defense all season and stayed in there the rest of the game at field safety. Antonio Reed played every snap but two at boundary safety with Marquel Dismuke checking in for a two-play stint.

The cornerback situation is the one that interests me the most in this group. Lamar Jackson played all 53 snaps at field corner and played much better than he did the week before.

On the other side, Eric Lee Jr. played more total snaps than Dicaprio Bootle, but Bootle got more snaps at boundary corner while Lee moved into the slot on nickel downs.  Last week, Lee got twice the snaps that Bootle did with Bootle spelling both Lee and Jackson at corner, playing both sides of the field. 

Bob Diaco's defense continues to expand and adapt, both out of necessity by injury and because of an increased level of comfort and understanding of roles.

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