One-Mississippi … Two-Mississippi … Three-Mississippi … Four-Mississippi …
When will it end?
Only when the whistle blows.
It’s a long task facing the Nebraska secondary on Saturday: UCLA sophomore Brett Hundley is a mobile quarterback who can make a play last an eternity and then find an open receiver. Defensive backs who peek into the backfield or come off a receiver too soon will put their defense in a world of hurt.
Hundley is definitely a four- or five-Mississippi quarterback.
“On a long down, it’s tempting to see what’s going on,” Nebraska junior safety Corey Cooper said, “but you can’t watch the play, you have to play the play. Mobile quarterbacks definitely stress our coverage. Late in downs (Hundley) can extend plays with his feet. You don’t want to lose coverage and leave guys wide open.”
Last season — as a redshirt freshman in just his second start — Hundley was nothing short of brilliant against Nebraska in a 36-30 victory. He was 21-of-33 for 305 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 53 yards on 12 carries. He spread the ball around, too, completing at least two passes to eight different receivers.
“It puts more pressure on a secondary when we have to cover longer,” senior cornerback Ciante Evans said. “You know, that’s our job, to cover. Extended plays are going to happen Saturday, so we have to get used to it and practice that throughout week. Vertical routes will come forward and hitches turn into vertical.”
And then, Hundley may just decide to take off running. He finished with only 355 rushing yards in 14 games last season, but he ran for nine touchdowns. He’s not as quick as Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, who burned the Huskers for 186 rushing yards last season. But Hundley did rush for two scores, including a 37-yarder, in the Bruins' opening win against Nevada.
Nebraska defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said coaching players not to peek into the backfield is “probably the hardest thing to coach right now in the secondary.”
“The keys are discipline and eye control,” Joseph said. “We understand we’re playing a good quarterback like this kid, so the play can be long sometimes. We need to be disciplined, stay in our rules, don’t panic and stay in our coverages."
Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said plenty of time has been spent in practice on what to do when the play is extended.
“The rule of thumb is if a guy is running short, he’ll convert it deep, and if he’s running deep, he’ll come back to the quarterback,” Papuchis said. “We work scramble drills with our guys, so I think they have a decent feel for how it works. You never know exactly how it will play out. It’s kind of ad lib once the play starts going like that. They need to stay locked on their man as best they can so they can allow the front line to close ground on him.”
A good pass rush would help. The Huskers sacked Hundley three times in last year’s game.
“We’ve got to get some pressure with the front four when he’s moving around and we need to close the pocket on him,” Papuchis said. “That’s been a point of emphasis. Sometimes it’s hard (for the defensive backs) with their back to him. In theory, it would be great to be able to yell a signal when he takes off, but that’s not realistic with all the noise. It’s more of an awareness and it’s an issue we try to replicate in practice.”
Evans and the Nebraska secondary really have no choice but to stay focused on their assignments until the play is blown dead.
“You really just have to play until the ref blows his whistle,” he said. “If you’re covering a man you can’t just turn around and see what’s going on in the backfield. You just have to do your assignment, do your job. When the whistle blows, that’s when you know the play is over.”