Nebraska's defense looked very different against Wisconsin than it has the last handful of weeks. Players returning from injury, others leaving the game with injury, players getting benched and matching up with what Wisconsin does well all shaped the lineups in Nebraska's 21-point loss to the Badgers.
Facing a heavy run team, Nebraska lined up in a 4-3 look on 30 of its 67 defensive snaps. It lined up in its base 3-4 on 28 plays. Nebraska only showed six snaps of nickel (five with a four-man front and one with three down linemen). Nebraska also showed three snaps of goal line defense, with six players with their hands in the dirt, three linebackers and two safeties.
|Carlos Davis, SO||67||38 DT, 28 DE, 1 NT|
|Mick Stoltenberg, JR||51||26 NT, 25 DT|
|Freedom Akinmoladun, JR||36||29 DE, 7 DT|
|Khalil Davis, SO||34||30 DE, 4 DT|
|Deontre Thomas, FR||10||7 DT, 3 NT|
|Alex Davis, SO||9||6 DE, 3 DT|
Carlos Davis was the only player who was on the field for every snap of the game, and while he didn't necessarily win every battle or make every play, the redshirt sophomore continued to show why the coaches can't take him off the field. The man is a beast.
Freedom Akinmoladun and Khalil Davis were used in the same kind of rotation as they have been with a near 50-50 split that gave the junior Akinmoladun a few more snaps. However, the other two player that had been rotating fairly evenly – nose tackles Mick Stoltenberg and Deontre Thomas – saw their biggest snap disparity of the year.
Thomas only played 10 snaps and did not see the field in the second half. His last play was the 75-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Taylor late in the first half, a play where the 280-pound true freshman was dominated from the snap by Wisconsin's 316-pound center, opening the hole for Taylor to burst through. Stoltenberg is the only active player on the defensive line who is listed over 300 pounds and the coaches must have decided they needed his size against the Wisconsin rushing attack.
Alex Davis continues to play almost exclusively as a nickel pass rusher, and he was also on the field for the three goal line situations.
|Dedrick Young II, JR||65||37 OLB, 26 ILB, 2 MLB|
|Chris Weber, SR||61||27 MLB, 24 ILB, 10 OLB|
|Luke Gifford, JR||35||29 OLB, 5 DE, 1 MLB|
|Ben Stille, FR||35||18 DE, 17 OLB|
|Marcus Newby, SR||32||30 OLB, 2 MLB|
|Sedrick King, JR||26||15 DE, 11 OLB|
|Mohamed Barry, SO||6||4 ILB, 2 OLB|
|Avery Roberts, FR||2||1 ILB, 1 MLB|
Dedrick Young II was second on the team in snaps played and only left the field for the final two snaps of the game when Wisconsin ran once and took a knee once. That opened the door for true freshman Avery Roberts to make his debut on defense after playing exclusively on special teams to that point. Chris Weber was only on the field for four fewer snaps than Young, and that was because he got banged up late and had to head to the sideline for a few plays. Mohamed Barry, who had been rotating in for stints recently, didn't see the field until Weber went down. The Huskers relied heavily on their veterans on the interior in this game.
Marcus Newby made his return after a hamstring injury had kept him out the last few weeks and got almost an even split with Luke Gifford, which, quite frankly, I don't understand. Gifford had been one of Nebraska's top defensive performers the last few weeks and I don't know why you would take him off the field for half of the game at this point.
One thing that contributed to Gifford's reduced snaps is the rise of redshirt freshman boundary outside linebacker Ben Stille, who saw his most extensive action of the year. After playing one less snap than junior Sedrick King against Illinois, he saw nine more snaps this week. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, the Huskers likely saw his size and physicality as an asset against Wisconsin's run-heavy offense.
|Joshua Kalu, SR||64||55 FS, 6 FS Nickel, 2 FS GL, 1 BS GL|
|Aaron Williams, JR||50||41 BS, 6 BS Nickel, 3 FS|
|Lamar Jackson, SO||48||48 FCB|
|Eric Lee Jr., SO||45||39 BCB, 6 Nickel Slot Corner|
|Dicaprio Bootle, FR||22||16 FCB, 6 BCB|
|Chris Jones, SR||19||19 BCB|
|Marquel Dismuke, FR||18||15 BS, 2 BS GL, 1 FS GL|
|Antonio Reed, JR||2||2 BS|
In his return to the field, Joshua Kalu only left the field for three snaps and only did that because he got banged up on a play. Aaron Williams was knocked out of the game. Aaron Williams subbed out to give Antonio Reed a few snaps, but the junior reserve suffered an injury and was out the rest of the game (and will be out against Ohio State as well). Williams also took one play off in favor of redshirt freshman Marquel Dismuke, who took Kalu's place for three plays then got a fourth in place of Williams. Williams returned for two more plays before getting injured, and he is questionable for Saturday's game against the Buckeyes.
Dicaprio Bootle got beat pretty badly on a couple of mesh routes on third down, but I still don't quite understand the disparity between his snaps and those of Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee Jr. Bootle has been subbing in at both boundary and field corner, but he played strictly on the field side in relief of Jackson this week in Nebraska's 4-3 and 3-4 looks and filled his normal role as boundary corner in nickel looks. However, he didn't get any other boundary looks and that is because of the return of senior Chris Jones.
Jones returned from a torn meniscus after three months of a four-to-six month projected recovery timetable and saw 19 snaps in his first game back. He was set to be the starting field side corner prior to his injury, but Nebraska eased him back into things by playing him on the boundary side where there is typically less ground to cover. Jones showed a little rust in his return, as expected, but he appears to have emerged without any setbacks. It will be interesting to see how the Huskers handle the corner position moving forward as Jones approaches full strength. Does he return to the field side and play the majority of snaps? If so, does Jackson return to the boundary side he was projected to play prior to Jones' injury? If so, how do the Huskers split those snaps between Jackson, Lee and Jones?
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.