Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Football

Erik Chinander Isn't Just Nebraska's Defensive Coordinator, He's a Wizard

September 10, 2018
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You’re a wizard, Erik.

At least, that’s what linebacker Luke Gifford called defensive coordinator Erik Chinander Saturday night.

“He’s just smart,” Gifford said then. “The things they draw up are pretty cool. As a player, when you come in every Monday and get to see those things, it lights a fire underneath you and it makes everybody pretty excited to go do it.”

Chinander is aggressive, he’s creative and he’s fun. Nebraska at times overwhelmed Colorado’s offensive line Saturday with the looks and pressures it gave. Whether it was showing six, bringing four, bringing them from unexpected spots and still getting to the quarterback or moving sophomore Ben Stille from end to nose to blow by the center, if Chinander thought it might work, he tried it.

And most of the time it worked.

Nebraska’s seven sacks marked the most in a single game since recording seven against Michigan on Nov. 9, 2013. It’s also tied for the most since the Big 12 Championship in 2009.

“At halftime, someone had mentioned… I don’t know how many we had at half but someone had mentioned, ‘We’re going to break our sack record from last year if we keep it up at this pace,’” Stille said Monday. “It was definitely something we took notice of.”

Numerous defenders were asked if they’ve gotten after the quarterback like that in their time at Nebraska; every single one of them said no.

“That’s what makes this defense so fun to play in,” Gifford said.

The common remark is that Chinander just gets it in a way others don’t. Senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said the former Iowa offensive lineman understands how to attack protections and how to go after teams. Maybe it’s the lineman in him knowing what he’d hate a defense to do. Maybe it’s something else. The players don’t really care, they’ve just bought in.

“I just listen to whatever he says because I know it’s going to work,” Stille said. “He’s drawing stuff up, I don’t know where he does it at, what little dungeon he sits in and thinks up this stuff but he’s crazy when he’s coming up with the pressures. It’s pressures I’ve never seen before.”

And there’s a certain level of trust that has to be there in order for that to work. If you’re asking guys to do stuff they’ve never seen done before, there’s the potential for skepticism to creep in. That’s where graduate safety Tre Neal helps. When Chinander is saying, “Just trust me,” Neal is telling the team, “No, really, do it.”

“Once they went out there and trusted him on some of the stuff we were working, those guys were getting sack after sack after sack,” Neal said. “That's where I think they get it from. He understands offensive lines and how they protect and that's why he puts in those packages and stunts that confuses them. I think that's why they call him the wizard."

And now that the team has seen real, tangible results in a live game, it’s just so much easier to ingest everything.

“They see it,” Neal said. “That's the best thing we needed just from the first game to trust what he's saying. It's easy to do in practice and say, ‘OK, whatever.’ But once you do it in a game and you see it as, 'Wow, this is actually working and what he's telling us in practice is actually what's going on in the game,' I think that's the thing.”

It also helps that Chinander involves the team in each step. Stoltenberg said he doesn’t just scheme up a bunch of looks and not explain what they are and why they’re in the gameplan.

“If he’s drawing up something or writing up a new play, we’re going to go over it and go over it a lot and understand why we’re doing it,” Stoltenberg said.

Given the Huskers’ performance in Game 1, it’s probably safe to expect some more magic as the season moves along.

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