While the desired results have not been there in Nebraska’s two biggest games this season, it hasn’t shaken Husker coaches’ belief in their defensive scheme.
“The defense works,” said first-year Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski after Wednesday’s practice. “A lot of people study it. Being on the other side of the fence for a long time, Bo (Pelini) was a guy we studied as a staff at Iowa, studying their defensive line play. Not only their scheme, but also their technique and things like that. And over time, you look at Bo’s scheme and it works.”
Kaczenski, who spent the previous seven seasons on the Iowa staff, said it's just a matter of proper execution when it comes to Nebraska’s two-gap defensive line scheme.
“You look at the first 15 plays against Ohio State, we really did a good job of executing,” he said. “And then some things happened, some things snowballed and we just didn’t play with the execution we needed to play. When you do that, a good team is going to make you pay.”
And while a bye week after the 63-38 loss left players eager for another game, Kaczenski believes the extra time proved beneficial heading into Saturday’s game at Northwestern.
Those extra days, he said, gave players some time to analyze the missteps and figure out some “tough lessons.”
“I think our guys got a better fit now after the Ohio State game of what their job is, and how important their job is individually in the scheme and how it affects the 10 other guys,” he said.
Whatever issues plagued the Husker defensive line against the Buckeyes, Kaczenski said he puts them on his shoulders.
“It’s about helping them during the game. There’s some things I didn’t see that I should’ve saw that could have helped these guys out. That’s on me. And, ultimately, the way the D-line plays, that’s on me, that’s on the coach. ... So we've all got to improve all the way around.”
* Santos an important piece: Nebraska linebackers coach Ross Els said redshirt freshman linebacker David Santos “will be a big part of what we do” Saturday when the Huskers defend Northwestern’s spread attack.
“David has the ability to play out in the open field a little bit, and with Northwestern spreading us out, he’ll be able to do those kinds of things,” Els said Wednesday. “So we’re excited to see David play.”
Santos, who has three assisted tackles this season as a reserve, will be among “a lot of guys” playing more snaps at either linebacker or as part of Nebraska’s nickel and dime packages, Els said.
“We’re going to have to rotate a lot of guys in,” he said. “We’re going to roll different guys in depending on what sets we see and what Northwestern is doing, because they can be a very physical running team, but also they can spread you out in the run and throw it.”
That doesn’t mean you’ll see players Saturday who haven’t played this season.
“It’s everybody who’s pretty much played this year,” Els said.
* Dealing with movement: There is plenty of respect coming out of Husker camp for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff.
After practice Wednesday, Husker assistant offensive line coach John Garrison described Northwestern as “one of the most well-coached teams you’re going to see in the conference.”
Nebraska saw that up close when Northwestern upended the Huskers 28-25 in Lincoln last year.
One of the issues that stood out to Garrison from that game?
“Up front, we didn’t do a great job of blocking (pre-snap) movement,” he said. “We did really good at times. But when they provided some movement or different things, we didn’t handle that well at all.”
Garrison pointed to a fourth-and-1 play when Nebraska’s offense got stuffed. A couple fumbles inside the Northwestern 30-yard line, including one inside the 5, didn't help either.
But Garrison said he's encouraged by how this year's offensive line is dealing with pre-snap movement.
“It was a huge emphasis this spring,” Garrison said. “Everything that we do, we don’t go through a day of practice, maybe even four reps, without getting some type of movement where we have to be able to handle it. … We’ve just got to be smart, take care of our business, don’t hurt ourselves and I think we’ll like the outcome.”
-- Brian Christopherson and Brian Rosenthal