Fresh off its first win of the season, Nebraska handed out its first Blackshirts of the season after an impressive defensive performance last Saturday against Penn State.
Instead of a big announcement, Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander wanted to keep players who earned a Blackshirt private.
“The guys finally practiced the way we wanted them to and we had a pretty good performance,” Chinander said at Tuesday’s press conference. “The Blackshirts need to set a new standard...this tradition means more to me than social media and Twitter.”
Despite over 500 yards of total offense, Penn State scored just 23 points on the Huskers, creating an interesting post-game evaluation for Chinander. One thing he said he wants to see is a balance between yards and points given up in games.
“We got to be a little better on third downs but right now we’re taking away the ball and scoring for our team,” Chinader said. “There’s some good things and not so good things happening. Overall, we need to keep the points down.”
One player that Chinander praised on Tuesday was senior linebacker JoJo Domann. Chinander said Domann was playing well within the system this season but doesn’t believe he has hit his ceiling yet.
Domann was singled out due to a unique role he plays within Chinander’s defense. His tasks vary during a game, depending on the personnel that Nebraska brings out for a series, drive or even a play.
“He’s done a really nice job of playing within the system,” Chinander said. “I still don’t think any of us have seen the ceiling on JoJo Domann.”
Domann has always been utilized in a hybrid role but unlike past seasons, the Husker front seven has much more depth. A smaller rotation, no matter how good the players are, is something that Chinander has never liked.
His reasoning is that a top-tier defensive linemen playing his seventh straight snap won’t be as fresh as someone else who’s only played one snap within a game or on a particular drive. This season, Chinander has used the new-found reserves to keep the defense fresh.
One player who has benefited from this is senior defensive end Ben Stille, who sacked Penn State redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Levis on Penn State’s 91st and final offensive play to seal Nebraska’s 30-23 win. Stille has also been a great role model on the defense, according to Chinander, bringing along younger defensive linemen like sophomores Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers.
“Some of the older guys know that the boogeyman is coming to get them if they don’t do their jobs,” Chinander said. “These young guys are really pushing the envelope and developing a good sense of competitive practice.”
Like the Husker defense, the offense also has had their fair share of different rotations.
The new starter at quarterback, redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey, had a performance against Penn State that offensive coordinator Matt Lubick was content with.
“For a first game, coming out there and being calm and making some big time plays at crucial times,” Lubick said. “I thought he did a great job.”
Lubick later said that McCaffrey improvised well, creating plays for himself throughout the game and that he was impressed with his poise in his first career start..
More younger players have been taking snaps all around the offense for different reasons. Some have just needed to get a better grasp of the playbook in practice, while others have had to fill in for starters that couldn’t play.
For Lubick, the younger players taking snaps come with a fine line between trying to instill confidence in a freshman while keeping the same standard of putting the best players out on the field to win.
“I know exactly how confusing this offense can get sometimes. I understand that these guys have been here for only four months, trying to learn this offense and get playing time out there,” senior tight end Austin Allen said. “This year, we’re trying to expand the offense more and it’s good for the entire offense. It’s making me be a little more patient throughout the week.”
The expansion comes with more ‘eye candy,’ as Allen described, such as motion to deceive the defense into thinking something else might be run. Another way this expansion has taken place has been through adding new tweaks to the offense each week meant for the specific defense that week.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I’m getting a little frustrated understanding what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Allen said. “That’s something different we’re doing this year because past years, we would only run plays based on rules and now try to run plays based on the defense.”
The supposed first half of the schedule, which appeared to be the more difficult stretch of the schedule before the season, has passed, but there is still no letting up for any of the upcoming games. Both Lubick and Chinander only had good things to say about a 1-3 Illinois team that Nebraska welcomes to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, even though the Fighting Illini are 13th in scoring offense and ninth in scoring defense in the Big Ten.
“We played three great defenses but at the same time, in this league the big challenge our guys have to understand is that every defense is good,” Lubick said. “Our guys know we’ve played three good defenses but they also know there isn’t an easy defense on the schedule and you have to prepare that way.”