With injuries stacking up for Nebraska on defense, one of the players who saw his role expand suddenly was freshman defensive tackle Nash Hutmacher.
The "Polar Bear," as he’s known by fans, played 11 snaps Saturday, mostly in the second half in place of junior captain Damion Daniels, who’s dealing with an injury and was limited.
Hutmacher, a 6-foot-4, 320-pounder, has been waiting in the wings for his opportunity. The Husker coaching staff has been confident all along this fall that the young player would be ready if called upon.
“We kind of saw a little bit earlier that he was coming along really well and he's got some very meaningful reps against (NU starting center) Cam Jurgens, which is always a good barometer to see where those guys are at," NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. "But he's just had Damion Daniels, who's played such good football, and some of those other guys, he hasn't had a chance to get into some of those games.
Last month, defensive line coach Tony Tuioti said of Hutmacher, “He’s developing and he’s getting better and better and better. Just having the conversation with him like, 'Your time is coming.' He’s approached everything the right way. He’s the next guy up.”
Offseason challenges to tackle: Nebraska freshman left tackle Turner Corcoran didn’t mince any words Monday. He knows what’s atop his priority list for the offseason.
“I've got to get better with my pass protection. It’s no secret,” he said. “My injury from fall camp, that kind of slowed me down a little bit. I feel like I need to polish off that part of my game. I need to be better.”
The Lawrence, Kansas, native impressed in his first start last year, but spent most of preseason camp dealing with an injury, struggled once he was back in the lineup and temporarily bumped over to right tackle to make room for freshman Teddy Prochazka, who started two games but suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.
Those two plus Bryce Benhart have a lot of football still in front of them, though NU could look for offensive line help via transfer this offseason in addition to betting on much more development from the young corps.
“A lot of room for growth. We actually, I thought we protected really well Saturday, especially considering the defense we were playing,” coach Scott Frost said. “We put them in a lot of protections that I think helped a little bit. … The guys are fighting and scrapping. A couple of them are playing through nicks and cuts, that’s football.
“Still a lot of room for growth and a lot of talent in that position.”
Better tackling required: Chinander said Monday that the Huskers didn’t miss a ton of tackles against Wisconsin on Saturday, but they missed them in key spots.
Tightening up Friday against Iowa will be a key to slowing down the Hawkeyes’ ground game.
“To be honest with you, I thought throughout the year we’ve tackled pretty well,” Chinander said. "We’ve done a really good job leveraging the football, there hasn’t been a lot of misses out there. The ones that have got missed have been missed the correct way. That’s a funny thing to say, but when you miss on the right leverage and you bounce around a little bit, the rest of the posse can hunt.
“(Against Wisconsin), where they are getting in '22' personnel or bringing in an extra tackle in, that box is so packed that those tackles are critical because there’s a mass of humanity in the 'A' gap. When that thing gets bounced around and somebody misses, there’s just nobody left to make that tackle.
“So I don’t think it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we were not tackling anybody,’ but a couple of those ones that got missed just became intensely magnified because of the kind of game we were in.”
— Parker Gabriel
Photos and video: The sights, sounds from Camp Randall Stadium, where the Huskers take on Wisconsin
Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.