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Husker DBs eager to meet speedy Vols; true frosh Jackson feels ready for big role
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Husker DBs eager to meet speedy Vols; true frosh Jackson feels ready for big role

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lamar Jackson knows he is not going to experience the take-it-easy Friday afternoon one would normally expect on the brink of a New Year's weekend.

His coach Brian Stewart has told the true freshman to expect to be busy. Jackson already knew.

"I'm going to be the new guy out there," Jackson said. "It's not going to be like they don't know that I'm going to play as much as I'm going to."

The Tennessee receivers that Nebraska's defensive backs are about to see Friday in the Music City Bowl were described as "thoroughbreds" by Stewart.

Josh Malone, the team's leading receiver with 852 yards, averages 18.9 yards a catch and stands 6-foot-3. Sophomore Jauan Jennings has 521 yards and averages 15.3 a reception. Also 6-3.

The sophomore Jennings is who Jackson expects to be matched up against one-on-one much of the day.

"A lot of time they like to single out (Jennings) to the boundary," Jackson said. "We're both 6-3. As coach said, 'We're going to see who's going to earn their scholarship.' I just have to go out and compete."

Nate Gerry's suspension for the bowl game produced a domino effect that figures to have Jackson on the field most of the day.

The plan is for Jackson to play the corner spot opposite Chris Jones when Nebraska is in the nickel package, with Joshua Kalu sliding in to play nickel back. Likely starting safeties will be Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams. Note every one of those names mentioned should be back in 2017.

Jones knows those Tennessee receivers will bring some "SEC speed" to the table, but he thinks the Husker secondary can meet the challenge.

"We all want Nate to be here, but at the same time, we look at it like, 'These are the guys we're going to be playing with next year …'" Jones said. "So put it together and let's see what the secondary is going to do. It's a preview of what it's going to be like next year."

While Jones brings up the Volunteers' speed at receiver, NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker points out their height.

Not only are there two 6-3 receivers, but also a 6-6 tight end in Ethan Wolfe, who has 20 receptions for 224 yards.

"We've got to be conscious of possible mismatches from the standpoint of height. … We're going to have our hands full, no doubt," Banker said.

The coach also noted Tennessee uses a lot of bubble screens, meaning defenders will have to tackle well in wide-open areas.

Tests are all over the place for that Husker secondary. But Jackson knows because it's the biggest assignment of his career to date that as many eyeballs will be on him as anyone.

His junior counterpart Jones is excited the kid gets his chance.

"He's worked all year for this moment. We're putting a lot of trust in him," Jones said. "He knows what's in front of him. He just knows he has to go out there and play. They might catch passes here and there or some things might not go our way. But that's part of growing up, maturing at the position. You just have to continue to stay in it, make plays."

While Jackson described his true freshman year as a bit of a "roller coaster" earlier this month, he feels he knows the defense much better now.

That's why he's pumped. He thinks he's ready to show everyone what he's made of.

Any grand advice from teammates before he enters the ring? Not really, actually.

"They kind of just expect me to do what I got to do and stuff like that," Jackson said. "Because at the end of the day, I've been here all year, and I've been doing the same stuff they've been doing. They just say, 'Hey, you've got to show up.' And that's what I plan on doing."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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