A lot had happened to David Santos in three weeks, including the loss of his blackshirt and starting spot, but now he had a free run at the quarterback and some pent-up frustration to unload.
“Yeah, a little bit of it just came out right there,” Nebraska’s sophomore linebacker said, recalling his first-quarter sack in last Saturday’s 59-20 win against South Dakota State.
That sack was the first sign of any life from the Husker defense, which had already been gashed for 14 points in just nine plays on the Jackrabbits' first two series.
That it was Santos out there making that play was interesting to anyone who has followed the early season roller-coaster ride of the Nebraska defense.
Just two weeks before, Santos had struggled enough at MIKE linebacker that coaches dropped him to the third option on the depth chart, behind true freshman Josh Banderas and redshirt freshman Michael Rose.
And just a week earlier, Santos had been pulled on a fourth-quarter drive late in the game against Southern Miss after more struggles.
But after last Saturday’s rough beginning, Santos got another opportunity just halfway through the first quarter.
“One thing about our guys, they know if they get yanked like he did after the first game, you keep working hard, because you’ll get another opportunity,” said defensive coordinator John Papuchis. “As a coaching staff, we've always felt like you don’t want to throw people away.
"Josh (Banderas) had kind of grabbed the opportunity to be the MIKE backer for us, but he didn’t play particular well (Saturday), so David got his chance. We’ve got to play the guy that can get it done, and I thought David did some decent things out there.”
Santos said Husker coach Bo Pelini and linebackers coach Ross Els preached to him to keep his head in the game even after he lost his starting job. They were still going to need him.
He also received encouragement from former Husker linebacker Will Compton.
“I won’t give you the full description, but pretty much he talked about just getting back to playing football like you know how,” Santos said.
Santos ended the game with six tackles. Banderas returned to the game later and played a little better than he began, recording three tackles.
But heading into Big Ten play, it’s clear that MIKE linebacker is one of many spots on defense where Nebraska remains unsettled, with no one yet to take firm control.
Pelini said true freshman linebackers Banderas and Nathan Gerry, a South Dakota native, both had rough outings against the Jackrabbits.
“Nate had a tough day. I don’t know if it was who he was playing against, with the whole South Dakota thing, but he struggled,” Pelini said. “(And) I thought Bando struggled a little bit, especially to start the game. We have to figure out why, why they did. But we had a lot of breakdowns to start the game.”
With all that said, competition for certain spots may take on a bit of a fall-camp feel during this bye week.
Pelini isn’t only looking for linebackers to step up, but also someone to emerge at the safety spot opposite Corey Cooper.
The coach mentioned sophomore Charles Jackson – yet to play much this season – as one player who’d get a good look there.
“He’s still a work in progress, but he shows me he’s a playmaker,” Pelini said. “I know he tackles well.”
Santos is trying to show he can be one of those playmakers, too.
He’s hoping last week was the push in the right direction for him.
“The sense of urgency always increases when you get demoted,” Santos said. “You want to get back where you’re at. It never stops. You want to keep improving. I want to keep going forward with this.”
Improvement is the only option for the Husker defense at this point following a performance that Pelini called the worst of a season that has already had two other ugly showings.
Nebraska is 72nd nationally in scoring defense (27 points per game), 83rd in rushing defense (179.5 yards per game) and 106th in total defense (463.8 YPG).
Not exactly stuff you want to hang up on the fridge.
Pelini still believes the potential is there, but also knows players must start to get closer to reaching it swiftly.
“It’s not about where you are, it’s about where you’re gonna be two weeks from now and then the next week after that,” he said. “We keep progressing each week, we’ll be fine. But there can never be a sense of complacency with this team in any regards.”