Bob Diaco still isn’t much of a stat guy. The stat that really matters is having one more point than the other team, the first-year Nebraska defensive coordinator has said.
But he’ll give you that it, “absolutely” feels good that the Husker defense only allowed Rutgers to rush for 68 yards in Nebraska’s 27-17 victory on Saturday.
“I don’t really look at the statistics,” Diaco said. “I don’t necessarily even want to know what they are. We just want to play the plays well and grow the players and help them be fundamentally sound and be able to win their individual matchups and do it one play at a time, and then play the next down.”
With Nebraska leading just 14-10 at halftime, the Husker defense did its part in holding Rutgers to seven points, three first-downs and 58 total yards in the second half.
The defense also came up with two turnovers, interceptions by Antonio Reed and Luke Gifford.
After Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin completed 5-of-7 passes on a 75-yard scoring drive to start the game, he completed 10 more passes the rest of the game.
The Scarlet Knights were also just 3-of-12 on third-down conversions. Nebraska didn’t give up an offensive play of longer than 19 yards.
Again, not a stat guy, but Diaco understands the hallmarks of how you usually win games. He got to see some of them by the defense Saturday.
“You can’t let the team run on you, and you got to be great in the red zone, and if you can take the football away a little bit you got a great chance,” Diaco said.
Rutgers gained 194 yards of total offense, the fewest yards by a NU opponent under coach Mike Riley, after Northern Illinois was held to 213 yards.
After Rutgers scored to start the game, Diaco liked how the defense responded, and learned from that.
“We got a third-down opportunity there and we don’t fundamentally play it properly,” Diaco said. “The tight end (Jerome Washington) makes a circus catch under his leg — what a beautiful play — and he’s a talented player, a very, very good player. But you learn from that moment that you have a chance to get off the field, and you got to be perfect in those situations. It’s like flying the space shuttle on third down, and in the low red zone, and in those critical situations.”
Junior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg said the Blackshirts were ready to get back on the field after getting scored on right away.
“Instead of being discouraged from that first drive, I think guys were just fired up to get back out there after that happened,” Stoltenberg said.
Both of the turnovers forced by the Husker defense came in the second half.
Reed, a junior, had a third-quarter interception to set up a Nebraska field goal, making his first career interception, even with an injured hand.
“Antonio Reed, with one hand, picks the ball off and has one of the more beautiful runs of the day,” Diaco said.
Gifford intercepted Bolin on Rutgers’ final drive of the game.
Reed, Gifford and Dedrick Young each tied for the team lead with six tackles.
Gifford, a starter for the first time as a junior, leads the team with 28 tackles.
“Sometimes it clicks when you’re young, and sometimes it clicks when you’re older,” Gifford said. “For me, it kind of started this year.”