Nebraska football’s defense had one of its best games of the Scott Frost era in the Huskers’ 35-21 win over South Alabama, forcing five turnovers and scoring two touchdowns.
However, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander knows that the improvement doesn’t stop there. Although he was happy with the five turnovers, Chinander was more focused on the things the Blackshirts need to fix.
“Guys played hard, got the ball out, we probably should’ve scored one more [touchdown] I thought if the guys would’ve done exactly what we were coached to do,” he said. “Lot of stuff to fix, a lot of stuff to get better at but I was pleased with the turnovers.”
Adapting to the movement of South Alabama’s offense was the main thing Chinander cited when talking about what the Huskers could have done better.
“There was a lot of motion going on,” he said. “I don’t think the communication was good enough, I don’t think our eyes were good enough when people were moving.”
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher also said he was happy with the turnovers his players forced, but stressed that he wanted to see more.
“I’m happy with the way they responded when the ball was in the air,” he said. “Obviously [there’s] a couple more I felt like we left out there, I’d like to have back, but we did make a few splash plays back there to get a little confidence going into next game.”
Part of the reason Nebraska defensive coaches are so intent on building off last week’s performance is that they know the upcoming game against Colorado will be a tougher challenge. Unlike last year, the Buffaloes will have a first year head coach in former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The new coaching staff means that the Huskers won’t have much to work with when it comes to knowing what to expect from the Colorado offense. Another challenge for the Blackshirts will be dealing with a CU roster full of weapons.
“I think Laviska Shenault probably is the top wide receiver in the country, I think Steven Montez is a really good quarterback that’s got a lot of experience, and they also got a couple other receivers that can make it work,” Chinander said. “I think their personnel is a concern and not knowing exactly what to get ready for is the second concern.”
Colorado junior wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. has caused a lot of talk this week in Lincoln, mostly because of his performance against the Huskers last year. The second-team AP preseason All-American had 10 receptions for 177 yards and a touchdown in Colorado’s 33-28 win over Nebraska last season, along with two rushes for five yards and another touchdown. His only receiving touchdown of the game came on a 40-yard pass that put Colorado ahead late in the fourth quarter. This year, Nebraska is intent on making sure he doesn’t get loose for any big plays.
“It’s ‘Where’s Waldo’ right, you got to know where that cat’s at,” Chinander said. “And just because you know where he’s at doesn’t mean you know what’s going to go on, but you always have to understand where he’s at and how we can work our calls to benefit us.”
Fisher also has made sure that the defensive backs get even more familiar with Shenault Jr. before the matchup.
“Know where he’s at at all times,” he said. “Know if he’s on the field, know if he’s off the field, know everything about him. First name, last name, where he went to high school, know everything about him, what he likes to eat, know everything about him.”
Despite all the talk about the Buffaloes’ star receiver, Fisher is making sure that the defensive backs don’t forget about other weapons on the Colorado offense. He specifically cited numbers three and 19, which correspond to junior KD Nixon and presumably senior Tony Brown (who wears 18, but there is no player who wears 19 on the CU roster).
“They got a nice group. I can’t say enough about those guys, I think they work very well together, I think you can put them in different spots,” Fisher said.
After a stellar weekend performance, Nebraska’s defense is ready for a challenge that Fisher says will be “totally different.”
“This team [Colorado] beat you last year,” he said. “It’s a different approach, we owe them one.”
“I know we’ll improve, but this is gonna be a big test,” Chinander said. “Colorado’s a good football team, they pose a lot of problems so we got to be super, super sharp.”