Photo by Derek Peterson
Nebraska Football

Blackshirts Aren’t Here yet, but the Killer Bees Are

September 4, 2018
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Sophomore defensive back JoJo Domann has ties to this Nebraska-Colorado rivalry set to be renewed Saturday in more ways than one. Domann is from Colorado, but he plays for Nebraska (breaking news). Domann also experienced the Husker Blackshirt tradition when he was still in the Rocky Mountain State. 

Some of his high school coaches at Pine Creek were Husker natives and used the tradition with their defense. Back then, the rules were simple.

“It can be given and taken at any second,” Domann said. That line of thinking has been somewhat controversial at Nebraska in the past and it wasn’t present when Domann arrived in Lincoln, much to his surprise. “That’s how I grew up knowing the Blackshirt culture.”

That’s how it will be again with new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander.

"You earn it every single day, every single week,” Domann said. “That’s how I think it should be.” 

But since the team hasn’t even had the opportunity to earn them yet, Chinander and the rest of the Husker coaching staff gave the defense a different color jersey to work with this week: gold.

“When I talked to Coach [Charlie] McBride and he told me about the beginning of the Blackshirts and some of those other guys, the first team had the Blackshirts and the second team had the yellow shirts, officially known as the Killer Bees. So we went back to that,” Chinander said after practice Tuesday. 

“Everybody’s in them right now. Everybody that’s up with us is in the yellows. After this first game, once we get the Blackshirts out there, then the Blackshirts will be in black and the second-team guys will be in gold.”

No one explicitly said Iowa, and maybe that wasn’t the intent behind the origin, but it’s hard to look at the gold and black jerseys and not think of the Hawkeyes. Maybe that’s just a psychological ploy at work. Chinander said players have already voiced their desire to “get out of” the yellow and earn the black.

“It’s to entice us to work even harder for the Blackshirt because if you’re not in black, you’re not in white and red anymore, you’re in yellow,” Domann said. “It makes the Blackshirt that much more wanted.”  

The defensive staff is doing some other things, too, to keep the team on edge leading up to the Colorado game. Not playing Saturday’s game against Akron didn’t give the Huskers any advantage over the Buffs; there was no extra prep time and Colorado now has a game under their belt the Huskers don’t.

“They’ve gotten some of the rust knocked off so we’ve got to go out and attack practice this week as if we’ve played a game,” outside linebacker coach Jovan Dewitt said. “[We’ve got to] get our guys moving a little bit quicker than probably normal. You introduce maybe one or two more live reps in practice to get those guys moving at game speed as opposed to a thud or a tag-off mentality.”

Dewitt said this week will be about trying to simulate as many live reps as they can to make up for what was lost Saturday. Coaches say you grow the most between games one and two and a lot of that has to do with the live action players get.

Chinander broke it down like this: players get in front of 90,000 fans instead of a practice field and you work through those rough patches, players that might look good in practice but separate in games emerge, communication gets worked out and you find out where an opponent has diagnosed your weaknesses.

“I think you can still make a big jump between week one and week two throughout practice,” Chinander said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think a little adversity is going to hurt this team at all, I think it’s going to make us better.”

Other News and Notes

>> Senior safety Aaron Williams told media Tuesday he had labrum surgery in May and the doctors told him he had to take things easy. It would heal itself naturally, but Williams had to slow-play his return to the football field. But now he’s back and feeling as good as he has in a while.

“This is probably the healthiest I’ve felt in probably a year now,” he said.

>> Chinander affectionately calls Tuesday practices “Tough Guy Tuesdays.” He’ll take offensive plays from that week’s opponent, the best ones they run, and throw them at his defense. The goal is to put his guys in positions they don’t want to be in, running a defense they don’t want to run and forcing them to be “near-perfect” in order to stop the offense.

“I script all the hard stuff, give them all the really hard looks. There were some busts and things like that, but the action was really good today,” he said. “[It’s] teaching them what’s going to happen to them if we don’t get that call executed exactly. 

“So, there’s a lot of things in there where I’m scripting the offense to have some success against our defense and the scout team to have some success against our guys and hopefully those guys celebrate and it makes our guys a little more irritated.”

>> Practice Tuesday was, by the players’ accounts, just as good as Monday. 

“Earlier I said we had the two best practices I’ve ever witnessed,” inside linebacker Collin Miller said. “Our Monday, guys came out jacked up, dancing, clapping, smiling. We had the choice to either come out here and hang our heads and just pout about it, but thankfully guys came, put their helmets on and flowed with it.

“Today, honestly, it was the same momentum that we had yesterday. Flying around, getting 11 hats to the ball, a couple mistakes here and there but we’re cleaning up.”

The expectation is that energy has come from the letdown of last Saturday. But is it possible to maintain that level all through this week and into this upcoming Saturday? Miller essentially said why not?

“These coaches do a fantastic job just keeping the momentum and the intensity going on and the vibe of ‘we’re going to get this job done.’ Honestly, it’s not too difficult,” he said. “Mick Stoltenberg, Luke Gifford and all those guys are just pushing everybody every day.”

>> Colorado’s offensive similarities were a talking point Tuesday. Both teams run spread concepts, both have similar fundamental run and pass schemes, both run tempo. The Colorado flavor — what makes it stand apart from the Huskers’ — is in how the Buffs utilize everyone.

“They have a dangerous deep threat in No. 3 [wideout K.D. Nixon],” Chinander said. “No. 2 [wideout Laviska Shenault Jr.] is a very good player, their quarterback, [Steven] Montez, I think he’s gonna have 17 or 18 starts under his belt so an experienced quarterback is a nice thing to have. Then they’ve got a running back [Travon McMillan] that can do some things in the zone read game. I think the guy they had last year was a little more downhill guy and this guy can do some things in the zone read game.”

In Week 1 against Colorado State, the Buffs moved Shenault all over the field. He lined up at wideout, at tight end, in the backfield, wherever he presented a matchup advantage for the offense. Miller said he’s not a guy the Husker defense is going to lose track of Saturday.

“He’s a fantastic athlete,” he said. “He’s one of those guys you’ve got to keep your eye on. Wherever he’s at, they’re going to try to get the ball in his hands but he’s a fantastic player. Hopefully we can stop him and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

>> Don’t expect a ton of playing time for safeties Cam Jones and CJ Smith this season.

“CJ and Cam are guys we really want to build on in the future,” defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said. “We want to keep on catching those guys up to speed in practice … They’re coming along.”

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