For a team that plays something close to basketball on turf, having a defense that can force turnovers on a regular basis is a pretty large key to success.
It has been a piece missing from Nebraska's plan in a 1-6 start. The Huskers were minus-7 in the turnover department in their seven games leading into Saturday's matchup against Bethune-Cookman.
Nebraska only won that battle by one Saturday, but how the Huskers did it perhaps showed progress in an area that has been in great need of improvement for more than a few years.
"That's the thing: In college football, turnovers dictate a lot of the games you win," said freshman cornerback Braxton Clark. "So I think us getting turnovers like that, it just puts confidence in the offense and confidence in the defense."
Nebraska finished with three takeaways against the Wildcats — a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery. And while the game's outcome was never in doubt, two of those turnovers stoned Bethune-Cookman when the Wildcats were on the doorstep of going in for a score.
Deontai Williams was in the middle of two of the three takeaways. He pounced on Jonathon Thomas' fumble late in the second quarter after JoJo Domann poked the ball loose at the end of an 11-yard gain.
It marked just the third fumble recovery of the season for the Huskers, and the second since the Troy game Sept. 15.
"Get the defense off the field. That's the whole point of my game — do whatever it takes to get the defense off the field," Williams said. "It's fun getting interceptions. It's fun stripping the ball, getting forced fumbles. It's fun to play offense for a little bit on defense."
Williams also snuffed out a potential Bethune-Cookman touchdown in the third quarter, leaping to pick off David Israel's pass in the end zone. That came at the end of a nine-play, 68-yard Wildcats drive that included a Blackshirt bust in coverage that led to a 40-yard pass and catch.
"In practice we've been working on our picks every day, and I've been working on that play in that moment," Williams said. "In one practice I had four picks, so I was very confident that I would get a pick today."
A pair of defensive linemen teamed up, sort of, on Nebraska's third takeaway. Backup nose tackle Peyton Newell's diving interception early in the second quarter came on a pass that doinked off Ben Stille's helmet and gave NU possession at its own 12-yard line.
"It hit right off my helmet. I mean, I didn't do anything, honestly. I just happened to be in the way," Stille said.
Still, it was an interception, and the result of a renewed effort to get after the ball.
"It was just trying to make plays," Williams said. "We felt like this was going to be a stat game, so we were just trying to get our stats up there and try to force turnovers for our defense so we can come out next week with a swag and try to do the same thing against Ohio State."
Whether NU can repeat its success remains to be seen, but Saturday at least provided a glimpse of Nebraska's defenders grasping the concept of going after the ball.
"I think it's a little bit of coaches coaching and players listening," Clark said. "Just coming together as a whole and being smart players and listening to what the coaches are telling us."