Tracking Nebraska's Defensive Participation Against Colorado
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Tracking Nebraska’s Defensive Participation Against Colorado

September 11, 2019

Last week we took a closer look at how Scott Frost and Troy Walters handled their offensive personnel against South Alabama. This week, we’re focusing on the defense.

Colorado may be more focused on running the ball under Mel Tucker, but the strength of the team is its passing attack and Erik Chinander was very aware of that. The Huskers opened in nickel and spent the majority of the game that way.

Discounting plays nullified by penalties, one kneel-down by the Buffaloes and the weird substitution infraction (the play counted but the Huskers had guys coming in and out during the snap so it’s hard to figure out who the 11 were supposed to be), I tracked 76 defensive snaps for Nebraska.

The Huskers were in their base 3-4 defense on 25 of those 76 plays, or 32.9%. However, 16 of those plays featured JoJo Domann as the second outside linebacker. He’s listed as a linebacker on the roster, but this week we saw Nebraska change the depth chart to designate Domann as the nickel. So if you want to classify that as nickel also, then Nebraska played just nine snaps of its base 3-4 against Colorado.

In addition to the 16 snaps with Domann out there in that spot, Nebraska played nickel with Cam Taylor-Britt in the slot on 51 snaps, or 63.2% of the game. They played three snaps of what I’ll call dime here, which includes two defensive ends, four linebackers including Domann and five defensive backs.

Unfortunately, even playing primarily a pass-focused defense the Huskers still gave up nearly a nearly 70% complete rate and 375 yards to Colorado quarterback Steven Montez. The Huskers did keep Laviska Shenault Jr. in check — five catches but just 31 yards and no touchdowns — after he lit them up to the tune of 11 receptions and 177 yards last season. However, it’s worth noting that 153 of those 375 passing yards came on two plays, two big defensive busts that I broke down on Sunday.

With players like Domann and Taylor in addition to more traditional outside linebackers like Caleb Tannor, Nebraska has the versatility to match up with both run- and pass-heavy teams. To have success, though, they’ll have to execute better and more consistently than they did against the Buffaloes.

Defensive Line

  • SR DE Carlos Davis — 52 snaps (68.4%)
  • SR DE Khalil Davis — 45 snaps (59.2%)
  • SR NT Darrion Daniels — 40 snaps (52.6%)
  • JR DE Ben Stille — 38 snaps (50.0%)
  • SO DE Deontre Thomas — 29 snaps (38.2%)
  • SO NT Damion Daniels — 21 snaps (27.6%)

As promised, there’s been heavy rotating on the defensive line with six guys playing between 25 and 70% of the snaps. Nebraska played the starting trio of the Davis twins and the elder Daniels 35 snaps (46.1%) and the back-up group of Ben Stille, Deontre Thomas and Damion Daniels 25 snaps (32.9%). They mixed and matched on the other 16 snaps.

The coaches got a little creative at times with how the linemen lined up. Sometimes both ends lined up on the same side of the nose. Sometimes they went without a true nose and had one of the Davis twins or Thomas lined up over the center. It will be interesting to see if they get Jahkeem Green into the mix in the coming weeks and if so, how that affects the snap count of the other linemen.

Inside Linebackers

  • SR Mohamed Barry — 57 snaps (75.0%)
  • JR Will Honas — 49 snaps (64.5%)
  • JR Collin Miller — 43 snaps (56.6%)

Barrett Ruud kept the snaps pretty even between his three inside linebackers, though that group struggled quite a bit in coverage. Barry in particular was not pleased with his own play. Honas did lead the team in tackles with a career-high of nine.

Barry and Honas was the most-used pair with 30 snaps (39.5%), the starting duo of Miller and Barry was right behind at 25 snaps (32.9%) and Honas and Miller played together 18 snaps (23.7%).

Outside Linebackers

  • SR Alex Davis — 51 snaps (67.1%)
  • SO Caleb Tannor — 20 snaps (26.3%)
  • JR JoJo Domann — 19 snaps (25.0%)
  • SR Tyrin Ferguson — 14 snaps (18.4%)
  • FR Garrett Nelson — 3 snaps (3.9%)

Again, Nebraska was in nickel or dime for most of the game so that limited the number of snaps for outside linebackers, but the man they call Ace is clearly at the top of the depth chart in that room as Alex Davis played two-thirds of the snaps. Caleb Tannor was next up, playing both alongside Davis and also in place of him at times, and he notched his first sack of the season and the second of his young career.

Ferguson backed up Davis and also played in place of him on two off Nebraska’s three third-and-long dime plays. That unit includes three outside linebackers — Ferguson/Davis, Tannor and Domann.

Nelson got one drive but didn’t make any plays.

Defensive Backs

  • JR CB Dicaprio Bootle — 76 snaps (100.0%)
  • SO DB Cam Taylor-Britt — 76 snaps (100.0%)
  • JR S Marquel Dismuke — 75 snaps (98.7%)
  • SR CB Lamar Jackson — 70 snaps (92.1%)
  • SR S Eric Lee Jr. — 53 snaps (69.7%)
  • JR S Eli Sullivan — 5 snaps (6.6%)

Dicaprio Bootle is the team’s top corner, and despite giving up some size he drew the Shenault assignment quite often and held his own for the most part. He never left the field. 

Cam Taylor-Britt was the only other player who was on the field for every defensive snap from what I could tell, and he essentially played three or four different positions. Most of Taylor-Britt’s snaps (51) came at nickel or dime. He also played 19 snaps at safety and six at cornerback. Taylor put his versatility on full display against the Buffaloes, but he does need to clean up some things as he missed a few tackles and was the one who got beat on the 96-yard flea flicker touchdown.

Jackson came off the field for two drives (the one-play flea flicker touchdown and the following drive) and Taylor-Britt took his place. Otherwise Jackson was out there the whole game.

With Deontai Williams out, Dismuke played every snap but one. Eric Lee Jr. played the second safety spot when Nebraska was in nickel but went to the bench while Taylor-Britt played safety in base. Taylor-Britt was also moved to first-string at safety on this week’s depth chart ahead of Lee.

For the second straight game, walk-on Eli Sullivan got into the game on defense ahead of another walk-on in Isaiah Stalbird, even though Stalbird has been ahead of Sullivan on the depth chart.

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