Erik Chinander

Nebraska coach Erik Chinander speaks with media in the Hawks Championship Center on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The last two months have been a whirlwind for Nebraska football and other schools around the Big Ten, with the fate of the fall season flipping back and forth.

Now, with the Oct. 24 start set in place, the Husker defense will face another challenge:   a season opener against Ohio State followed by a showdown with Wisconsin. Last year, the Buckeyes and Badgers combined for 1,062 total yards against Nebraska and won their respective games. Nebraska also will face a challenging opponent in Week Four in Penn State.  

However, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that he isn’t getting too caught up on how challenging the first few matchups might be.

“I can’t control the schedule, they put it out and I play football,” he said. “... It’s an opportunity for us for sure. Our guys are excited, the one thing that they did not want to do was play a schedule that was not going to have the best teams. They want to play the best teams, I want to coach against the best teams. That’s why we came to Nebraska.”

For now, the Blackshirts are focusing on what they can control. The recent months have been unpredictable, according to senior linebacker Jojo Domann, but the team is currently “putting one foot in front of the other.”

“I'd be lying to you if I said I was expecting this with the pandemic hitting and all the uncertainty and then football then no football then back to football. It's definitely been a crazy time mentally,” Domann said. “But like I said, our coaching staff has kept us dialed in, focused, and just the guys on the team, we want to play ball. So that's been driving us to keep coming to work today despite the uncertainty.”

With the season opener a few weeks away, the team is currently doing all they can to prepare. While doing this, the Huskers are also having to adhere to the conference’s health protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

According to Domann, players have to have their temperature taken before practice once they get to the door. Part of the Big Ten’s protocol requires daily antigen testing, which players receive “around dinnertime.”

Although athletes are back on campus now and adhering to strict protocols, the pandemic had a lot of impact on the Huskers over the summer. Since the team didn’t have much room to do in-person activities because of social distancing protocols, a lot of summer activities were done over Zoom. 

“Leadership is a contact sport,” Chinander said. “Not being able to touch those guys and hug them and just be with them every day was the hard part for me.”

Chinander said the lack of in-person interaction also had and is having an impact on recruiting. Coaches are essentially limited to FaceTime and Zoom calls with recruits, and it’s harder to bring recruits to campus. 

“I'd love to see a moving person, I'd love to talk to the teachers and the counselors and the lady that works in the lunchroom and all those people to find out what kind of kid that is,” Chinander said. “We don’t have that opportunity right now.”

As for the defensive players currently on the team and on campus, they’re focused on preparation for the upcoming season and improving on an inconsistent 2019 performance. Domann said that the defense’s goal this year is to “play every game like it’s our last.”

“Be focused, be energized, be assignment-driven, force turnovers, just raising the bar,” he said. “Raising the standard, we got to continuously do that, personally and as a unit. Just always pushing ourselves.