Nebraska’s defense played well for the first three quarters on Saturday before allowing Colorado to score 31 points in the final 17 minutes of regulation. While coaches and players are happy with the performance through those first three periods, they know that they need to finish the job.
“We played three quarters of really good football and didn’t finish the football game,” defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “We’ve gotta be able to finish. Hate to say it, but that’s part of growing up as a program. We got to finish on defense, we’ve got to finish the fourth quarter like we played the first three and we win that football game.”
The Huskers seemed to get tired as the game went along, but Chinander knows that is no excuse for the fourth quarter performance.
“I think if you play a lot of plays you’re a little gassed,” he said. “But there was not a sense of urgency to get lined up, there was not a sense of urgency to make the calls, we had a couple assignment busts that were crucial, and we just didn’t have that killer instinct at the end.”
Players haven’t been making excuses either. Senior defensive lineman Khalil Davis said they lost track of the little things as Colorado made its comeback, which should never happen.
“We just got to get better, more attention to detail, we did really good those first three quarters and then collectively as a group we just kind of stopped paying attention to the details,” Davis said.
However, the defense isn’t dwelling on the loss, and instead is looking forward to Saturday’s matchup against Northern Illinois.
“The weeks are too short to worry about what happened after Sunday,” Davis said. “So Sunday you regroup, see what you did wrong, fix it, onto the next team so we can’t really think about it too long.”
Despite having this mentality, senior cornerback Lamar Jackson said the tough loss still is somewhat stuck in the back of his mind.
“[It’s] just one of those things that still makes you kind of disappointed, still kind of sad, still kind of like ‘Dang, can’t believe we lost that one,’” Jackson said. “At the end of the day we’re gonna make sure we’re prepared to play four quarters of football.”
Northern Illinois has caused the Huskers trouble in the past, beating Nebraska 21-17 in 2017. That loss put the Huskers at 1-2 in a season which Nebraska finished 4-8 and fired then-head coach Mike Riley. This year’s Nebraska team is different in almost every way, with head coach Scott Frost now at the helm and a very different roster.
However, both Jackson and Davis experienced that game as sophomores in 2017. The loss wasn’t necessarily on the defense, as the Huskies scored 14 of their 21 points off of pick-sixes, but the Blackshirts gave up the go-ahead touchdown.
“That’s one of the games we weren't supposed to lose and we ended up losing,” Jackson said. “...At the end of the day that was two years ago, this is two years later, we’re a way better team, way different structure, so we think we’re going to be alright.”
Davis said he doesn’t remember a lot from that game, but he knows that the Huskers can’t overlook the Huskies, no matter how inferior of a team they appear to be.
“Every team is a good team, so we just got to prepare and get ready for them,” he said.
The Huskies have already showed that they can play competitively with good teams, as they challenged No. 11 Utah. Northern Illinois lost 35-17, but were tied with the Utes midway through the second quarter and trailed 21-17 at halftime.
One of the most dangerous players on the Northern Illinois offense is junior running back Tre Harbison, who rushed for 1,034 yards in 2018. In week one against Illinois State, Harbison had 23 carries for 99 yards.
Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti sees the run game as a strength for the Huskies and expects them to try to run the ball against the Blackshirts defense.
“They’re going to be physical up front, you know their head coach is a former running backs coach so he wants to run the football, they want to control the clock,” he said. “Their running back, he does a really good job of just staying downhill and on track so we got to be great tacklers up front.”
Stopping the run has been a strength for the Huskers early on as they allow just 2.12 yards per rush, good for 12th best in the country.
“It takes all 11 guys to be stout in the run game,” Tuioti said. “I think with coach Ruud and the back end guys, the linebackers, they do a great job feeding off the front guys, so I keep telling my guys up front that your plays are going to come within the scheme of the defense.”
With last game now in the rearview mirror, the Blackshirts know they have what it takes to keep improving and become a great defense.
“These guys are not afraid to fail, they’re not afraid to go out and give it all they got,” Chinander said. “It’s just learning how to put a team away when you’re up, I think that’s the main goal.”