Brian Stewart has coached defensive backs for 17 seasons. He's been in the coaching business — both college and the NFL — for nearly a quarter-century.
Has the first-year Nebraska secondary coach ever been part of a season like this one, with five losses by a combined 13 points?
"Never," he said.
Even for a veteran coach, the season has been a learning experience.
"More and more, as the season progresses, I really want wins for the kids, because I just see them busting their butts — 100 percent effort every single play, every single day," Stewart said. "It doesn't seem fair. We just have to keep pushing, keep practicing, keep playing hard, and the wins will come."
The next opportunity is Saturday, when Nebraska (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) plays at Purdue (1-6, 0-3). The Boilermakers have dropped five straight games and — perhaps good news for the Huskers — rank only 76th nationally in passing offense.
Nebraska is 125th in pass defense, allowing 321.1 yards per game. The bugaboo has cost the Huskers dearly. But there has been recent improvement. Stewart cites more contested downfield passes in recent games and a couple of interceptions Oct. 17 against Minnesota. He sees increased aggressiveness.
He said his defensive backs remain confident.
"It's just been the opportunity to get their hands on some balls," Stewart said, adding, "As long as we can contest the catch, I think that's what you want to see. The (receivers) who catch the passes, they're on scholarship, too."
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Stewart said he doesn't mince words with his defenders when it comes to film review on Sundays. The film is the truth, and you can't hide from it, he said. He shows good plays and bad ones. He said they correct what needs to be corrected, and he also "pats the back of guys who need to be patted on the back."
Adversity has been prevalent.
"As a leader, you have to serve," Stewart said. "I can't be worried about myself as much as I have to see how it affects the troops, and make sure it affects them in a positive way, as a learning experience, and not a negative way."
The 50-year-old coach was surrounded by reporters earlier this week after a practice. He answered every question in a calm and measured manner, and didn't flinch when asked what he thinks about Nebraska being 125th in pass defense.
"I think an awful lot of things go into it," he said. "First of all, a lot of people were passing the ball a lot because we were ahead in a lot of games early (in the season)."
He mentioned Southern Miss (42 attempts) and South Alabama (45) as examples.
"There are a lot of things that go into it that aren't seen when you just look at the stat sheet," Stewart said. "What I want to do is get the wins."
Stewart's crew may benefit from having senior cornerback Daniel Davie back in the fold. The Beatrice High graduate struggled early in the season and lost his starting job. He also suffered a groin injury. All told, he sat out four games before starting last week against Northwestern.
"I thought he did well," Stewart said. "I thought he played with confidence. They went after him twice and he answered the bell — one deep ball, one shallow. He played the ball. He was in position to contest the catch. That's all we can ask our guys to do."
Senior cornerback Jonathan Rose will sit out his second straight game Saturday for a violation of team rules. Sophomore cornerback Chris Jones has had a sore neck of late. Trai Mosley, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound redshirt freshman, will be ready if needed at corner, Stewart said.
Purdue isn't exactly Baylor in terms of offensive production. But the Boilermakers' multiple attack can confuse defenders who aren't well-prepared. Stewart said if Nebraska's defensive backs apply their base rules, they'll be OK — struggles this season notwithstanding.