Hail Varsity staff members Greg Smith, Jacob Padilla and Derek Peterson offer some final takeaways from Nebraska's (2-6, 1-4 Big Ten) 45-9 win over Bethune-Cookman (4-5).
Saturday’s win over Bethune-Cookman didn’t come as a surprise. The way the game unfolded didn’t come as a surprise either. One goal in this game was always to get enough of a lead so that reserve players could get into the game. When that was able to happen, that’s when some really cool moments happened.
“Those are the types of kids that I played with, they’re the type of kids that make up the patchwork of this program,” Coach Scott Frost said post-game. “Any time one of those kids is out there, it’s a little extra special to me.”
It seems like that special feeling was not just limited to Frost. There was a complete outpouring of support from different people on the staff. Many of them showed support on social media with words of encouragement but this tweet from Director of High School Relations Kenny Wilhite summed things up well.
This guy right here is one of the reason why I LOVE my job. He and guys like him make NEBRASKA great. Character, Hardwork, Dedication, Grit and Pride. Just look at his hat. Proud of you @MJarzynka. #WO #HomeGrown #GBR https://t.co/hipd7MbTS6
— Kenny Wilhite (@coachwilhite) October 27, 2018
Matt Jarzynka’s story is getting the bulk of the headlines and it’s a great story. However, there were multiple players who got action in the game on Saturday who are walking just a little bit taller and are hearing from lots of friends and family back home. In a season that has had some real lows, this day will always be remembered fondly as a major high.
In the past, there was always a sense that previous staffs were paying lip service by saying that they understood what it meant to local players to get onto the field at Memorial Stadium. That’s not meant as a dig at previous staffs but having a former Husker who is from the state running the program makes things feel different.
The immense pride that has been on full display since the moment some of those guys took the field has been really neat to see.
On Saturday, Nebraska won the turnover battle for the first time all season.
Previously, the Huskers had lost that battle five times and tied it twice. Against Bethune-Cookman, Nebraska hauled in two interceptions and recovered a fumble while only giving the ball away twice on a pair of interceptions, one each from Adrian Martinez and Noah Vedral.
“Causing turnovers gives the team confidence and we try to get more,” sophomore safety Deontai Williams said. “Once you get more, it just rains and rains turnovers. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher has talked repeatedly about how pass break-ups aren’t enough; he needs interceptions from his defensive backs. Well, after two picks in the first five games, Nebraska has intercepted five passes in the last three games.
Williams himself pulled down one of those interceptions against the Wildcats.
Bethune-Cookman quarterback David Israel took a shot in the end zone but didn’t see Williams on the back end. He flew in, high-pointed the ball and took it away from the intended receiver for the pick and the touchback.
“In practice we’ve been working on picks every day,” Williams said.” I’ve been working on that play in the moment and one practice I had four picks, so I was very confident that I’d get a pick today.”
That wasn’t the only turnover for Williams on the day, however. He also recovered a fumble after fellow sophomore safety JoJo Domann channeled his inner Charles Tillman with a Peanut Punch, knocking the ball out of Jonathon Thomas hands. The ball landed in-bounds and Williams picked it up, returning it 5 yards.
Nebraska still has a lot of work to do on defense, and the level of competition was significantly worse than anything else Nebraska has faced this season, but even so, Nebraska is starting to make plays we haven’t seen from the Huskers all season. The Huskers have seven takeaways in their last four games after recording just three in their first four. The Blackshirts are starting to have a little fun out there.
“I always wanted to get the defense off the field,” Williams said. “That’s the whole point of my game is to do whatever it takes to get the defense off the field and do my job to help get turnovers, help make plays. It’s fun getting interceptions. It’s fun stripping the ball and getting forced fumbles.
“It’s fun when you get to play offense for a little bit on defense too.”
Travis Fisher doesn't want to give him up, but he just might have to. JoJo Domann looked really good in his role as Nebraska's nickel-backer against Bethune-Cookman.
The sophomore safety popped up on the depth chart this week as the No. 2 outside linebacker behind junior Tyrin Ferguson. A lot of that probably had to do with depth; Nebraska is thin at linebacker (especially considering Ferguson has been hampered for almost a month now) and has a strong stable of safeties keeping Domann off the field.
But maybe the coaching staff sees something in Domann down closer to the line of scrimmage. This is, after all, the same staff that saw a backup safety in Shaqueem Griffin and moved him to outside linebacker where he became a star. That's not to say Domann is going to perform like Griffin, just that this staff has some banked currency to work with.
"The Domannator," as his Twitter handle dubs him, was everywhere Saturday. He finished with a solo tackle, a pass break-up and a forced fumble.
“Just getting reps on defense is a blessing and just being able to go out there and make plays," he said. "I just hope they keep coming my way and I keep capitalizing on the opportunity."
The "move" isn't really a move. It's not a position change, just a different gameday title for Domann. Asked if things change for him, he made sure everyone knew that.
"I play football, all aspects of it, so just them putting the packages to get me on the field," he said. "That’s the place I want to be in."
It's a place that has been out of grasp for the greater part of the last year. Domann had surgery to repair a torn ACL back in April of 2017, then in November, he tore the same ligament a second time. Since coming back for the fall, he's gone through a string of minor-but-still-troublesome ailments that had limited him to two appearances in the Huskers' first six games.
He played in the opener against Colorado and then didn't see the field again until Northwestern on Oct. 13.
"JoJo is a guy that every time we've been ready to give him an extended role he's had a little health issue this year," head coach Scott Frost said. "Kind of felt bad for him but he's good enough to play for us at safety, he's playing a little nickel. We need more guys and more depth and guys that are capable of making plays, and I saw JoJo make a few out there today."
If he continues to make those plays, it'll be hard to keep him off the field.