Rutgers vs. Nebraska, 9/23/17

Nebraska defensive back Kieron Williams (26) holds aloft the ball after the Scarlet Knights failed to convert on a 4-and-1 late in the second quarter on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

A rash of injuries has led to Nebraska's next-man-up approach this season.

On Saturday, it was a targeting call that thinned out the Huskers' secondary a little more. 

Junior safety Aaron Williams made a high hit on Rutgers' Hunter Hayek during the Scarlet Knights' first drive inside Memorial Stadium, and moments later was disqualified for targeting.

That's when Kieron Williams had his number called. The senior safety was ready, Lamar Jackson said.

"He's done it before," said Jackson, a sophomore cornerback. "He even told me, 'I haven't been on the field a minute,' but he was excited, and I was like, 'Let's do it.' There wasn't too much to say after that. He did his job."

Williams did not record a tackle, but he didn't leave the field following Aaron Williams' departure. Nebraska's defense allowed 126 passing yards, and only 62 after Williams entered the game.

Jackson said Nebraska tightened up a little after Rutgers' first drive. Williams' steady play was a big factor.

Before Saturday, Williams, who is one of the Huskers' primary gunners on punt coverage, had yet to play any snaps in the secondary. A year ago, he made nine starts and led the team in interceptions with five. His 69 tackles ranked fourth on the team.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Williams has handled his role well.

"He hasn't done anything other than be a great teammate since the day I met him," Diaco said. "He's trained hard and prepares hard, and it was no shock that when he was called upon that he was ready to play and perform."

Nebraska's secondary has already been without senior cornerback Chris Jones since a July knee injury. Senior safety Joshua Kalu has missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury. Junior Antonio Reed, who had a third-quarter interception, started again Saturday. Then Williams stepped in.

"That's one thing we strive on is our brotherhood and really caring for each other," Jackson said. "One guy went down, and during the week (the coaches) stress each guy to prepare like he's going to play. Those guys got in and they were ready to play."

Aaron Williams will be back for Friday's game at Illinois. Did Diaco see enough from Kieron Williams to have him more involved in the game plan?

"We've got a bunch of guys that have played, that are going to play," he said. "(Kieron) plays a great role, and whatever the opponent brings the next week, we'll have to look at personnel and the call patterns to try to get one more point than them."

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he saw a player step in with confidence when asked about Williams' performance. That's only going to make the defense stronger once players return.

"The more Antonio plays, the better he's going to get, and he's going to end up being a really good player," Riley said. "As these guys play, as we wait to get Aaron Williams and Joshua Kalu back, we'll be stronger for it at some point."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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