As his defensive backs ran past him after practice, Nebraska‘s Terry Joseph sounded more like a race car crew chief than an assistant football coach.
“Players are kind of like tires on a car,” Joseph said. “The more miles you get on them, the more they’re gonna wear out.”
Fortunately for Joseph, it appears the Husker secondary has plenty of tires in stock for the long haul of the season.
Joseph and other Nebraska coaches have talked often in the preseason about the plan to rotate more players into the games this year, especially on defense. Some of that may be motivational rhetoric, but there is no denying college offenses are running more plays and pushing the pace. Saturday’s opponent, Wyoming, runs a spread offense that will do just that.
“You kind of have to mix and match a little bit,” Joseph said. “You get in the game and it’s gonna be hot out. The tempo is gonna be fast. We've got so many new guys playing on defense, so we worry about nerves getting to them, playing in front of 90,000 people screaming. It’s a matter of getting a lot of guys reps in different combinations because you don’t know how the game will play out.”
Nebraska was the top pass defense in the country last year, giving up just 168.1 yards per game through the air. Wyoming and junior quarterback Craig Smith averaged 268.4 passing yards per game last season, so the Cowboys should provide a pretty good test for Nebraska’s young defense in the opener.
"You just have to be able to trust the coaches and the game plan,” senior nickel back Ciante Evans said. “Offenses do a lot of the same things and run the same route concepts. You just have to go out there and be able to recognize what’s going on.”
Joseph said he feels comfortable with “four or five” guys at the safety spot -- the names brought up most often are Corey Cooper, Harvey Jackson, Andrew Green and Charles Jackson -- where the Huskers are replacing two starters. Nebraska is particularly deep at cornerback, and that competition, said Joseph, has been “fierce” in fall camp. Evans is a lock at nickel back and veterans such as Josh Mitchell, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Mohammed Seisay and Jonathan Rose also are on the coach's radar.
“The guys know every mistake is gonna be critiqued and graded,” Joseph said. “It’ll come down to the guy that is most dependable is gonna play the most. Every day, those guys try to pay attention to detail and do the little things right, because they know they could be bumped out of the rotation. As good as the competition is, it might be hard getting back in.”
As the Huskers prepare for a potent Wyoming passing attack, the competition for playing time continues.
“All we do is come out here every day and compete against each other,” Mitchell said. “There’s always some trash talking going on in the room, and every day we come out here to find out who can be the better player.
“Luckily for us, we have a lot of depth in the secondary so the rotation for us is smooth. The guys that come in know what they’re doing and know the plays. We don’t really see a bit of difference for us when the rotation is so smooth.”
Going against Nebraska’s uptempo offense in practice has been a plus, Joseph said.
“It’s a tribute to how Coach Bo handles it. We continue to go some ‘good on good’ in preparation for the game so we can get used to the speed and the fast tempo. It’s not exactly scout tempo against our offense.”
Evans expects some of the younger players to be wide-eyed in Game 1.
How did Evans get over the butterflies in his first game?
“I didn’t,” Evans said with a smile. “I had butterflies the whole game. But you have to get used to it.”