Nebraska turned to its jack-of-all-trades, Cameron Meredith, when it needed a playmaker to fill a huge void on the defensive line on Saturday.
Entering the game against Northwestern, the Huskers were without defensive tackles Kevin Williams (knee) and Chase Rome (concussion), players with starting experience who would miss the game because of injury. Behind them were Thad Randle and Todd Peat Jr., both of which were battling lingering injuries and couldn’t play at 100 percent. Next up on the depth chart was a true freshman, Aaron Curry.
So the Huskers plugged in Meredith, a defensive end by training. Dating back to 2010, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has relied on Meredith’s versatility, trying him out as a linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle over the course of his career.
“You look for the different combinations that are going to provide different things for you,” Pelini said. “Rather than go with a young, inexperienced guy, you go with some experience.
“The guy is able to move in there. He’s a veteran guy. If we feel that’s the best thing for us, that’s what we are going to do.”
In a game where the Huskers were trying to do all they can to limit mobile quarterback Kain Colter, Meredith had to come up big for his team. By game’s end, the senior had accumulated five tackles and a sack, taking on a number of double-team blocks en route to his team’s 29-28 win.
“Cam played well,” Pelini said. “We knew we’d move him in there probably Tuesday or Wednesday of last week. We gave him some reps, and I thought he did well in there.”
“I thought I did well,” Meredith said. “I thought I held up pretty good.”
The speed and awareness offered by Meredith provided a unique dynamic to the Nebraska defensive line, which had a breakout game, recording 23 tackles as a unit, limiting Northwestern’s offense to 301 total yards.
“We knew when Kain Colter was at quarterback, there was a 70 percent chance for him to run,” Meredith said. “When he was in the game, we were definitely a lot more aware of the quarterback run game.
“We were just well prepared for the quarterback run, more than we have been in the past. Just knowing about Colter and how he can run as a quarterback, it just made us more aware as a d-line and as a defense.”
When Meredith got winded, coaches moved fellow-defensive end Jason Ankrah to the inside, mimicking their scheme with Meredith. The benefits showed on the field, but coaches and players maintained that much of the reasoning behind that was the injury-riddled group of defensive tackles.
“I just think they were being safe with those guys,” Meredith said. “I know how to play tackle, I’ve been in the system for four years now – I’m in my fifth year — so, I don’t think it was that hard.
“Moving inside is a little different, but you’re still playing the guy in front of you.”
This season has been an opportunity for Meredith to display his versatility. Pelini has used Meredith in a variety of roles for multiple seasons now, but the frequency at which Meredith is moving inside to tackle or dropping back as a linebacker is rising.
As the Big Ten slate wears on, the Blackshirts may have found a nice wrinkle — using Meredith and other defensive ends as a tool to help defend against the spread. As far as Meredith is concerned, he’ll play wherever the coaches stick him.
“I don’t mind. I actually like it,” Meredith said.