Photo by Aaron Babcock
Nebraska Football

Huskers Preparing for New Team, Same Scheme

September 12, 2017
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With the page turning on the Oregon game, the Huskers are setting their sights on Northern Illinois, the third-straight spread offense they’ll face to begin the season.

When defensive coordinator Bob Diaco met with media members after Tuesday’s practice, he admitted that he was a little surprised to see “more of the same” on tape of the Huskies’ offense.

“This is 53-and-a-third, this is the race for space, this is ‘find the guy with the ball,’ misdirection and shifts, trades and motions,” Diaco said. “It’s attack dive, alley and force on every down. It’s really very little difference.”

The fact that the Huskers are preparing for potentially two different Northern Illinois quarterbacks doesn’t change that either. Through the beginning of the season, redshirt sophomore Daniel Santacaternia and redshirt junior Ryan Graham have both seen time at quarterback for the Huskies. But regardless of who’s calling the shots, Diaco said the offense doesn’t change much.

“They’re actually very similar guys,” he said. “They’re similar physically – about the same height, about the same weight – and the offense doesn’t seem to change at all based on one or the other. They both run that offense and manage it really well.”

The Huskies are 1-1, coming off a 38-10 victory over Eastern Illinois, and Diaco knows his defense will need to be ready to go from the jump, or the offense can get rolling like it did with the Ducks. When Saturday’s game wrapped up and the team got home, Diaco made two different cut-ups of the film, one called “plays that cause losing,’ and the other called “the fight for every inch.”

“By the time I got done making the cut-up,” he said, “most of the plays on the one cut-up – I didn’t intend them to be that way but – most of them were from the first half and then most of the plays for the second cut-up were from the second half.”

Diaco knows it didn’t look pretty in the first half. “It doesn’t look like it should look and the points don’t look like they should look,” he said, but despite the evidence to the contrary, he sees his team improving. He sees improvement from week one to week two, he sees improvement from half No. 1 to half No. 2 and he sees the team improving again this week.

Part of the issue, as Diaco sees it, is in a small wrinkle that came about from a recent NCAA rules change allowing offensive linemen to be as far as three yards downfield on any given play.

“The most inequitable rule in the history of college football was activated and the offensive line can run off the line of scrimmage and be with their backfoot three yards downfield, so now all the plays look like runs,” he said. “It’s like you’re into a pass rush mode until the critical situation.”

That’s made it difficult on the defense to register much of a pass rush through two weeks – the team has just one sack in two games – and will make it so again on Satuday because of the similar spread offense the Huskies run.

“We’re doing everything we can to try to help facilitate a growing, maturing, developing coverage,” Diaco said. “These offenses are just built to create a lot of misdirection and a lot of problems in rushing the passer. They get the ball out very fast and most of it is off of play-pass, so the front is playing run.”

Diaco said it is what it is though, and he’s not making excuses for the defensive performances.

“Hey, you know, America loves points,” he said.

Other news and notes

>> On Monday, head coach Mike Riley was all fired up when talking about the “disappointing” loss to Oregon. He said the players should be sick looking at the tape and should be itching to get back on the field.

Sounds like he was right.

“We’re all ready,” left guard Jerald Foster said. “It’s only Tuesday and I can see that everybody’s ready to just show themselves again. The first half, obviously wasn’t what we wanted. The second half, we showcased ourselves better. We could have done better.”

Not even an 11 a.m. scheduled kick time for Saturday is satisfying that hunger.

“I kind of like the early games,” center Cole Conrad said. “Maybe the other guys don’t, but just kind of waking up and you’re right in football. You don’t have to wait around all day.”

>> Safeties and special teams coach Scott Booker touched on a number of topics Tuesday. He is excited about freshman tailback Jaylin Bradley’s potential on special teams, complimenting his tackling ability and physical nature. He also expressed confidence in the Huskers’ current situation at safety with starter Joshua Kalu’s status up in the air for Saturday.

Booker said he was pleased with the way reserve Antonio Reed performed in relief of Kalu against the Ducks.

Booker also noted that senior De’Mornay Pierson-El is the decision maker when it comes to handling punts. Whether he’s going to let the ball bounce, call a fair catch or try to make a play happen is ultimately up to him.

>> Reed and fellow safety Aaron Williams both wore green non-contact pennies during Tuesday’s practice. Diaco said Reed had a procedure earlier in the week that prevents him from contact but still allows him to go through the rest of practice at full speed.

Williams said he’s in good health, and the decision to give him a non-contact jersey is a question for Riley.

>> Diaco isn’t one to jump in a guy’s ear to try and inspire him with confidence.

“When you’re in the arena and you’re trading blows, you know as the competitor you’re either going to rise in that moment with competitive greatness or there’s going to be a moment where you wilt and there’s not a whole lot of words that can change that circumstance while it’s happening,” he said.

Diaco added that confidence comes from preparation, and then fruits of labor on the field inspires better preparation, which yields better results and so on and so forth.

>> When he went back through the tape, Diaco addressed the Huskers’ inability to create stops on third downs as one of the biggest takeaways. He addressed the Ducks’ first touchdown, which came on a third-and-eight. He addressed the Ducks’ second score, which came on another third-and-eight. He addressed the Ducks’ third score, which was set up by a third-and-17 conversion earlier in the drive.

“There’s opportunities to get off the field, even outside of field goal range and we’ve got to capitalize on those moments,” he said.

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