PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Until preparing his defense this past week, Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker hadn’t done much studying of Leonte Carroo.
What Banker observed before Saturday’s football game, though, may have been his most important homework.
He watched intently as Carroo, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound star receiver for Rutgers, went through pregame warm-ups. Carroo, coming off an ankle injury that had kept him sidelined the past two games, ran pretty good straight ahead.
Carroo’s burst after catching the football, though, was noticeably lacking.
“You could tell stopping and starting and making sharp cuts, that wasn’t what he was going to do today,” Banker said.
Oh, Banker had a specific coverage for Carroo, who’d caught 24 passes in just five games, including nine touchdowns.
But after seeing Carroo warm up, he scratched those plans, and let a more complete Blackshirts unit do its thing.
The result for a much-maligned pass defense was six sacks, two interceptions and a season-low 170 passing yards allowed in NU's 31-14 victory at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Carroo had a mere four receptions, for 62 yards, and quarterback Chris Laviano, harassed much of the game, completed just 13 passes, on 27 attempts.
“I would say our confidence level is super-high right now,” Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones said. “We all believe in each other, and we know we all can make plays whenever the time comes.”
Jones had one of Nebraska’s interceptions, in the first quarter, when he and safety Nate Gerry converged on Carroo on a deep pass.
Rutgers also targeted Carroo deep on the first play of the game, but Laviano overthrew his receiver, with cornerback Jonathan Rose in coverage.
Meanwhile, Banker said a healthier, more complete defense helped him open the playbook schematically. Namely, the Huskers counted on more dime packages and more zone coverage, the former which NU hadn’t shown since the BYU game, Banker said.
With Aaron Williams playing the dime, Nebraska went with six defensive backs for roughly 12 plays, by Banker’s memory.
“Somebody alluded to that at Monday’s press gathering, now that you get some guys back, if you might expand something,” Banker said, “and in fact, that’s what we did, and it applied to what they were struggling with.
“We did it, and we did it with some success. Can’t say it was without some angst, because it was probably right up until our last walk-through in the hotel this morning that we finally felt good that, hey, they got it from a communications standpoint, because there were some moving pieces in there.”
Defensive end Greg McMullen had two of Nebraska’s sacks, and the Huskers finished with a season-high 11 tackles for 51 yards lost.
Most of the pressure, Banker said, came from the front four, although blitzes were effective, too.
“We had a play where the dime and the nickel blitzed,” Jones said, “putting pressure on the quarterback, making him make the ball come out quicker, letting us make plays on the ball.”
Williams, a true freshman, has earned more playing time, Banker said.
"After that Purdue game, as s----y as that game was, he was the shining light in that game and really played his ass off. I thought that was a great testament to who he is, who he’s going to be.”
Banker gave Williams his assignment this week, too.
“I said, ‘Dude, you got these three things to do, get on your iPad, study that s--- and let’s go, otherwise we’re not going to use you,’” Banker said. “And he did a nice job.”