Assistant defensive backs coach Travis Fisher signs an autograph during Fan Day at Memorial Stadium
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Travis Fisher Wants Nebraska to Have the Top Secondary in the Country, Thinks He Has the Guys to Do It

March 31, 2021

It’s no secret Nebraska defensive backs coach Travis Fisher has had other suitors come calling. He’s recruited big-time prospects to Lincoln, developed guys, and overseen marked improvement in the overall play of the Husker secondary. And yet while Nebraska has been slower to take off than any of these coaches would have hoped for when signing on three years ago, Fisher has stayed put. 

Why?

“I haven’t reached my goal,” Fisher said Wednesday. 

Which is?

“I want to be the top secondary in the country. Here. At this school. I think I’ve got guys that can do it. I really do,” he said. “I believe in the guys that I coach. I believe in the staff and the direction we’re going as a staff, as a team, and just this secondary.”

Getting Marquel Dismuke and Deontai Williams and Cam Taylor-Britt to return in the secondary was a big deal for Nebraska, for defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, and for Fisher. Williams and Dismuke both have children; Fisher was sensitive to that. He knows the decisions become less about what the parent wants and more about what’s best for the kid in those situations. 

And still the safety duo returned. 

Taylor-Britt, Nebraska’s star corner, bypassed early entry into the NFL Draft in favor of a fourth year in Lincoln. He’s taken it upon himself to teach up the younger guys. Fisher doesn’t think he’s reached his ceiling yet.

And the guys behind those vets could take their jobs. Fisher thought Braxton Clark, had he not gotten hurt in fall camp prior to the season, was a starter-level player. He forecasts roles for Quinton Newsome and Noa Pola-Gates and Myles Farmer. Nebraska also has Nadab Joseph and Isaac Gifford and Tamon Lynum waiting in the wings. 

“Those kids are good football players,” Fisher said of the defensive backs in his room, “and I think those guys can be some of the top guys in the country this year.”

How do you get there? 

“If you look at what we had going on last year, the missed tackles were down from 11-something down to eight-something per game,” Chinander said. “I think we were giving up about five explosives a game last year, if you can get that down to a couple and you can find a way to create two or more turnovers a game, those are real improvements.”

Nebraska was 56th nationally in explosive pass play rate allowed (20-yard-plus completions) and 63rd in havoc rate (tackles for loss plus passes defended plus fumbles forced as a function of plays faced). 

The Huskers got a lot better on third down as the season went on and the tackling, to Chinander’s point, noticeably improved. The defense was better as a whole holding up against the run, and the secondary had regularly-scheduled flashes of brilliance. 

But those splash plays… Those are the next steps. 

“I think they made a lot of plays last year, but they could have made more,” Fisher said. “There were some balls that touched our hands that we should have picked (off), and I wasn’t totally happy with that.”

Nebraska had five interceptions in eight games. Taylor-Britt had some acrobatic, highlight-reel-worthy deflections that probably saved touchdowns, but after Farmer’s two in the first half of the second game of the year, there were only three others. 

Two takeaways a game would more than double Nebraska’s output from a season ago. But that’s the goal.

Three fewer missed tackles a game, as Chinander wants to break it out, is being a little more clinical here and there. Which might prevent a 3-yard swing from becoming a 25-yarder. Which might make an offense a little more desperate and open the door for forced throws or fights for a few extra yards.

“Then what seems like a little thing we’re talking about turns out to be a huge thing,” Chinander said. “You can expect a lot of improvement, but you have to put it in front of the guys in obtainable situations and if you can break it down as small as you can and try to accomplish those goals, then a lot of improvement is very reachable.”

There are very real expectations for this Husker defense this season, not just because of the talent in the secondary, but Fisher’s group plays a very real part. 

“I want to lead the country in takeaways,” Fisher said. “It’s on paper, it’s in the room, and that’s the day one meeting. And limiting explosive plays down the field. We want to be No. 1 in the country at limiting explosive plays, that’s plays 15-yards-plus. 

“The culture is in the room and it’s set, and the guys are bought in.”

The goal is stated. Fisher, and his room, seem pretty motivated to hit it.

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