Lamar Jackson 12.11.19

Following the conclusion of the Nebraska football season, The Daily Nebraskan will be examining the success of each position. This is the seventh part of this series, evaluating the secondary.

Nebraska football saw a slight improvement defensively as a whole in 2019, but no position group was stronger than the secondary. 

In 2018, Nebraska allowed 237.8 passing yards per game and 15 passing touchdowns. This year, those numbers dropped to 200.8 passing yards per game and 14 passing touchdowns. On top of that, the secondary played a huge role in the Blackshirts being able to force 21 turnovers on the year.

In the season opener against South Alabama, the secondary dominated. All five Jaguar turnovers in the game were forced by defensive backs, as the Blackshirts had three interceptions and two forced fumbles. The first takeaway came from senior cornerback Lamar Jackson, who forced a fumble from South Alabama quarterback Cephus Johnson on a strip-sack, which was recovered by senior defensive lineman Carlos Davis. 

The Blackshirts’ next two takeaways both resulted in touchdowns. The first came from senior safety Eric Lee Jr., who picked off Johnson and returned it 38 yards for the score. The next came on another fumble forced by sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt and recovered in the end zone by senior linebacker Alex Davis. Taylor-Britt and Lee Jr. added another interception each in the fourth quarter to finish off an impressive showing.  

As expected, the secondary didn’t keep up this level of production the rest of the season, but they remained impressive, leading the Blackshirts to their best statistical pass defense since 2012 and the No. 35 pass defense in the country. 

Jackson led the cornerback group and earned All-Big Ten second-team honors at the end of the season because of his production. The senior ranked in the top 15 of the nation in passes defended (15) and pass breakups (12), along with three interceptions. Jackson also had 40 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. 

Taylor-Britt and junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle also had successful seasons, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mentions from league media. Taylor-Britt specialized in forcing turnovers over the course of the season while splitting time at cornerback and safety, forcing a team-high four fumbles and sharing the team-high for interceptions with three. He also racked up 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two pass breakups. 

Bootle’s production trailed off a bit in 2019 after he led the Big Ten in pass breakups last year. However, he still had a solid year despite switching to safety for the last four games of the year. Bootle started every game, had 31 tackles, six pass breakups and a forced fumble. 

At the safety position, the only consistent starter was junior Marquel Dismuke, who started every single game at safety and had a career-high 67 tackles. 

The second safety changed throughout the year due to injuries. In the season opener, starting junior safety Deontai Williams went out with a shoulder injury in the first half that forced him to miss the entire season. 

Lee Jr. stepped in for the rest of that game, and played in all 12 games this season. However, his only start came against Colorado. Taylor-Britt and Bootle also started games at safety, while junior Eli Sullivan also played in all 12 games. 

Looking to the future, the Blackshirt secondary is primed to remain strong, as they will only lose Jackson. That hole will be a challenge to fill though, as Jackson’s mix of size and skill isn’t easily replaceable. 

However, the young defensive backs on the roster could very well take on a bigger role next year to help keep the secondary strong. Redshirt freshman cornerback Braxton Clark is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, an inch taller and just five pounds lighter than Jackson, and made plays in his limited defensive snaps. Clark had an interception against Northern Illinois, recovered a fumble against Maryland and made his only start at cornerback against Purdue. 

Freshmen defensive backs Myles Farmer and Noa Pola-Gates also may get more playing time next season. Farmer played in just four games to preserve his redshirt, playing on special teams and at safety, but only recorded tackles on special teams. Pola-Gates played in two games on special teams before suffering a season-ending injury, but came into Nebraska as a four-star recruit and has the talent to play more in the future. 

The Blackshirts will bring in even more talent next season. 2020 four-star safety Henry Gray is committed to the Huskers and is a top-25 safety in the country, according to 247sports. Along with Gray, the Blackshirts have commitments from a pair of three-star corners in 2020 in Ronald Delancy III and Tamon Lynum.

The secondary made a big jump in 2019, and the group looks to only be getting stronger.