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Saturday was a good day for the Nebraska defense, which makes sense because it was a good spring for the unit. 

Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has something going with this crew, it seems.

Three players who stood out

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1. Isaac Gifford. It happened sort of quietly, but the freshman safety from Lincoln Southeast led both sides with 10 tackles. He's put himself in position to play a significant role on defense in part because of his versatility. 

2. Caleb Tannor. The junior outside linebacker helped lead the upper-unit defense with a sack and two tackles for loss. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Tannor, a consensus four-star player coming out Stone Mountain, Georgia, has been relatively quiet in his collegiate career. NU fans liked the sight of him making some noise.

3. John Bullock. The redshirt freshman walk-on from Creighton Prep is a lower-unit player, but he made some big plays that will catch his coaches' eye. For instance: He forced and recovered a fumble by first-string receiver Oliver Martin in the red zone. 

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Three moments that will have fans wanting fall to arrive sooner than later

1. There was a "Polar Bear" sighting. Nash Hutmacher, the burly freshman defensive lineman from South Dakota with the excellent nickname, made an impressive stop on a fourth-and-2 in the second half, beating his man and bringing down Gabe Ervin short of first-down yardage.

2. Keep an eye on this guy. Nebraska hasn't exactly had a wealth of big and athletic pass rushers in recent years. Which is why it seemed significant when freshman outside linebacker Blaise Gunnerson (6-6, 245 pounds) recorded a 3-yard sack early in the scrimmage and pumped his fist. He battled injury problems in high school, but looks healthy now. 

3. This is only a scrimmage. We were reminded of that in the second quarter when sophomore corner Braxton Clark had a chance to put a serious hit on a receiver in the flat, only to tag him for a short gain. That's what the format called for in the first half. Tag football. But come autumn, the big hits return.

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Two things we learned or saw

1. The first-string defense was the impetus to holding the White Team to 19 total yards in the first half, including just 1 rushing yard. We saw a bunch of defensive starters make it look pretty easy. Definitely a good sign, even considering there was no tackling allowed.

2. Nebraska may have better depth defensively than some of us thought. The secondary definitely has it. There are some bigger dudes who also can play. Hutmacher comes to mind, as does Gunnerson and defensive lineman Mosai Newsom, a redshirt freshman who hasn't been mentioned much this spring but flashed a couple of times Saturday.

One question to ponder before fall camp

Can Nebraska's top-unit defense force more turnovers in 2021? "Turnovers are the biggest stat in the game," coach Scott Frost said. "Coach (Tom) Osborne always told us that. We've been emphasizing that. I don't know if I saw enough (this spring). We saw more. But I want to keep seeing it from the defense. We have guys who are capable of making plays to take the ball away."

Three sound bytes

1. These dogs have some bite. "Before we went out there, we let everyone know who was going on the field that they can't score," starting corner Cam Taylor-Britt said of the first-string defense pitching a first-half shutout. "This is every day for our defense. We try to come out every day and just dog-pound the offense every day. We just try to make it very tough on them to even get yards."

2. Welcome back, Husker Nation. "I don't how many times I've been asked about that, but it's crazy just seeing people back in the stands," Taylor-Britt said. "Walking out for the Tunnel Walk, you didn't see anybody last (fall) except for little camera crews. But this was exciting. Of course, you have teams' energy from both sides. But the fans' energy is something else. We needed that, and you felt it when you walked into the stadium today." 

3. Frost pleased with line play on both sides. "I was real pleased with that and have been all spring," he said. "We've really made an effort to be more physical, to finish plays better. I thought the (first-string) defense did a great job with that. As simple as we were, I thought we ran the ball pretty well. But I've seen big improvement out of the depth, talent, effort and physicality on both sides of the line." 

Finishing touch 

It's just an observation, but Chinander seems more confident and self-assured than at any point we can remember in the past three years. I think we're seeing why.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.