Can we start with story time?
The man tells great stories. That’s what everybody says about Terry Joseph.
The first-year Nebraska secondary coach likes to tell them during his Friday night meetings with his defensive backs.
“The last talk,” he calls it.
Personal stories, sports stories, real-world stories. The specifics mostly stay within the group, but Joseph’s talks apparently are not wasted breath.
“It always hits me every single time, because it’s so real and true what he’s saying,” said senior safety P.J. Smith. “Sometimes me and Daimion (Stafford), we walk out of the meeting and we’re like, ‘Man, can you believe that?’”
But it’s more than just a few good yarns from their coach that has Nebraska tops in the country in pass defense and second in pass-efficiency defense.
It’s true some of the lackluster passing offenses in the Big Ten make it easier for the Huskers to achieve such numbers -- giving up just 152 passing yards a game.
It’s also true you can defend only the offenses you face, and the Husker defensive backs have made a pretty good blanket against those, with opponents completing just 45.5 percent of their passes.
“It feels good, but we still have work to do,” Smith said. “But to be No. 1 in the country in that, it says a lot about this defense. It’s just not the secondary. It’s the defense overall. Because, without the D-line, without the linebackers, we wouldn’t have that stat.”
The stat is perhaps most impressive when you consider this is a secondary on its third position coach in three years.
From Marvin Sanders to Corey Raymond to Joseph.
When Joseph arrived, he immediately told his players they didn’t have to trust him on Day 1. That would come.
“Respect is something that I had to earn from them,” Joseph said.
In no time, he had them listening closely to his words.
He also had them on their toes. If a player didn’t know his stuff, it was going to be transparent to all.
“He comes with his ‘A’ game every single day at practice,” Smith said. “He demands a lot of us.”
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“He’s like a college professor,” said junior defensive back Ciante Evans. “He gives us quizzes about the game plan -- things that we should know, tendencies, formations. Then you turn it in and see what your grade is. So you really have to be locked in and focused. It’s like school all over again.”
Evans has been a prized pupil.
Perhaps no player on the defense has come as far as he has over the past year.
Bo Pelini said this week, in fact, that Evans was arguably the best defensive back in the Big Ten.
Evans' numbers may not jump off the page, which may be one reason why he was overlooked for the All-Big Ten team.
But Joseph knows a defensive back who covers well often doesn’t have big numbers.
“If your name’s getting called over the PA a lot, you’re probably not doing your job,” he said. “I know, personally, one guy we probably can’t miss is Ciante. I know every time he gets a bump or a bruise, I take a deep breath.”
Evans said his extra attention to film study has perhaps made the biggest difference this year.
“It has so much to do with this game nowadays, because everyone’s so good,” Evans said. “You've just got to try to get as much advantage as possible. You've got to know certain things that are going to happen before they actually happen.”
Especially on a week like this one -- championship week.
Evans figures a player like Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis -- a first-team all-conference player who dinged Nebraska for seven catches and 142 yards in the first game this season -- is doing his homework, too.
“He works hard. I can tell,” Evans said. “He studies just like a good receiver should. He’s going to study us, so we've got to be able to study him and counter his moves.”
By now, though, some extra studying is just part of the routine for Joseph’s defensive backs.
After doing his morning workout Monday, Smith walked into the meeting room.
A crowded meeting room.
“There were, like, five DBs sitting up there watching film,” Smith said. “That’s how bad we want it. If we do the things Coach asks us to, we’ll be coming back with it.”
With a championship. With a rose between their teeth. With one heck of a story to tell.