The mood was apparent after Saturday's game against Wisconsin: It wasn’t a day for Bob Diaco and his defense to celebrate.
But while the 38-17 score and 353 yards rushing allowed at Memorial Stadium weren’t in the game plan, everyone agreed that it was nice to have familiar faces lining up on defense.
Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones made their return, and sometimes it seemed as if they hadn’t missed any time at all. Kalu, whose hamstring kept him out of the last three games, finished with 10 tackles, second-most among the Huskers.
For Jones, who many feared could miss up to six months with a torn meniscus in a knee, it was a quiet day with just two tackles. Then again, the Nebraska secondary held the Badgers to just 113 yards passing.
“I’m just glad (Kalu and Jones) are back playing,” defensive coordinator Diaco said. “They’re seniors, they’ve worked hard and have made a great investment. They’ve poured out their heart and soul for the program, so it’s nice to see them back participating and doing what they love.”
The return of two senior leaders on defense was not only important from a morale standpoint, but also a technical standpoint for their fellow defensive backs.
“When Chris was in there, he wasn’t really missing a beat,” sophomore defensive back Eric Lee said. “We’re both on that corner position, so we’re giving each other feedback like, 'Hey, he’s doing this inside release, he’s doing this route,' so it’s definitely good to have another set of eyes out there.”
The secondary even supplied arguably the biggest moment of the night when Aaron Williams picked off a pass and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown to even the score early in the second half.
It was just another glimpse of the talent the group possesses. Now that the problems with depth have been eased with Kalu and Jones back, they’re confident with big tests ahead.
“(We just need to) remember how we feel right now and throw this game away,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of learning opportunities from it. We just need to focus on next week.”
Next week will be one of the biggest tests of the season for the Huskers, as they welcome No. 10 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) and quarterback J.T. Barrett. The senior has thrown for 1,513 yards this season while putting up an impressive 16-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.