Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

Lacking Offensive Punch, Nebraska's Defense Steps Up

September 1, 2019
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With Scott Frost at the helm, Nebraska’s offense is always going to get top billing. On Saturday, however, it was the other two phases of the game that took center stage and carried the Huskers to victory against South Alabama.

The Blackshirts held the Jaguars to 4.0 yards per play including 1.9 yards per rush and forced five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles). Two of those turnovers resulted in defensive scores.

“The way they ran to the ball and hit, I saw a lot of hacks around the ball, I saw a lot of different guys doing that and the fact that they were ball aware and ball disruptive today, getting hands on balls and creating turnovers,” Frost said. “We’ll get this offense juiced up and going and when we get it going, turnovers are going to help us win games.”

The first big defensive play came from none other than senior cornerback Lamar Jackson who forced the game’s first turnover.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound corner has taken some flack for his lack of physicality in the past, but you never could have guessed that based on this tackle. On first and 10, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander called a cornerback blitz. South Alabama didn’t account for him and quarterback Cephus Johnson never saw him.

Jackson got home and laid the wood, putting Johnson in the turf and knocking the ball loose. Carlos Davis, another senior, dislodged his defender, saw the ball on the ground and fell on top of it for the fumble recovery.

“Oh yeah,” Jackson said. “Ahh. It was amazing. For real, it feels amazing. It felt good just put that on film. It was a big play, with the fumble recovery and everything it was a big play. I felt great after.”

Later on, Jackson added a quarterback hurry on another cornerback blitz that led to an incomplete pass. He finished with three tackles in total, all of the solo variety.

Outside linebacker JoJo Domann made his presence known in the second quarter, starting off with a tackle for loss that set up a third and long for the Jaguars that they couldn’t convert. The following drive was all Domann.

On first down, Domann tackled Johnson on a 1-yard run. On second down, Domann got a pass break-up on a pass over the middle that probably should have been an interception. On third down, the Jaguars forgot to block him.

Domann came free off the edge as Johnson handed the ball off to his running back and he — along with defensive end Deontre Thomas — met the ball-carrier 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. They were credited with half a tackle for loss each and South Alabama had to punt, giving the ball back to the Huskers with just under two minutes to play in the first half.

The three-and-out orchestrated by Domann allowed Nebraska to march down the field for one last scoring opportunity, although the Huskers had to settle for a field goal when the drive stalled at the 14-yard line, and the kick got blocked.

I covered Eric Lee Jr.’s big day in Play of the Game, but he and Jackson weren’t the only defensive backs who made game-changing plays. In fact, sophomore Cam Taylor-Britt was arguably the MVP of the defense. He was second in tackles behind Mo Barry with five (two solo) and he created a pair of turnovers as well.

Here’s one of those turnovers.

“The tight end was in so we were just like, 'Hey here I go,’” Taylor-Britt said. “It was my first snap at safety in college and that happened, so I was thinking maybe I can do this.”

Just like with Jackson’s sack and forced fumble earlier, Taylor blitzed from the secondary and Johnson didn’t see him at all. Taylor-Britt drilled him from the blind side and Johnson lost the ball once again. Alex Davis got past the South Alabama left tackle and beat everyone else to the ball, recovering it as he crossed into the end zone for his first career defensive touchdown.

The touchdown put the Huskers up 14 early in the fourth quarter.

"I didn’t know it was a forced-fumble sack, I just knew I hit him hard, really hard because I hurt myself a little bit,” Taylor-Britt said. “When I saw the scoreboard, I just saw them falling on the ball in the end zone and it was crazy. To be in Memorial Stadium and play like that and see everybody cheering, it’s great.”

Later in the period, Taylor-Britt was in the right place at the right time and made a play to preserve that two-touchdown lead. On third and 7 from the Nebraska 12-yard line, Johnson tried to hit a receiver on a slant over the middle.

Taylor-Britt caught the ball on the ricochet and took off, thinking he was going to take it all the way back. He had blockers around him and out-ran the first couple of Jaguars. Cephus fell down again (he is really bad at tackling after throwing interceptions), but Taylor-Britt had already angled back inside a bit and got taken down.

“The dude that actually face-masked me is one of my friends, so after the game I asked him ‘what were you thinking?’ and he said ‘I knew I had to get you down or you were going to take it back,’” Taylor-Britt said. “It was Jared Wilson. He’s from Troy, Alabama so he went to South Alabama and we were friends in high school. He came up here and he was talking, talking and said 'I’m going to get you' and when he face-masked me I was asking ‘where’s the flag?’ but it’s all good.”

The coaches have spoken very highly of Taylor-Britt ever since he got to campus. Travis Fisher called him a fifth starter in the secondary and a captain in the back end. On Saturday, we saw why.

"Cam had a big game for us,” Frost said. “I saw him make some great hits, obviously the sack fumble. The play at the end of the game when he got tackled at the end. He can play all four different defensive back spots including nickel and he's a baller. I can't say enough about their team and how they came in and fought today, and I can't say enough about our defense and how opportunistic they were and it's a good thing we played well on defense and special teams because offensively we weren't up to our standard.”

Special teams played a big part for the Huskers as well, but we’ll save that for another story. Stay tuned.

 
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