LINCOLN — Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski on Wednesday said his starting front four had only one missed assignment in NU's 49-20 win over Southern Mississippi.
But the execution of those assignments could use some work, the first-year NU assistant added.
“Just some things anglewise. Getting out of position. Footwork. Nothing schematically. Missing tackles. We got to tackle better. First play of the game, we got guys coming clean and it could have been second-and-19 instead of second-and-1.
“And later on in the game, their guys are running through ‘A' gap, and we're reaching for tackles instead of getting there with our legs. So it's all stuff we can clean up. But they've got to clean up fast.”
Kaczenski said he was pleased with the number of defensive linemen who played. That bunch included true freshmen Aaron Curry and Avery Moss. This week, Kaczenski said, redshirt freshman Kevin Williams should play as well.
UCLA's offensive line is big, physical and “good at staying on their blocks,” Kaczenski said, featuring a “great player” in left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound sophomore is actually one of the veterans on the Bruins' line. UCLA's depth chart lists three freshmen as starters heading into the Nebraska game.
Can NU's experienced defensive line use that to its advantage?
“Our guys may have a better understanding — just from experience — how they're trying to attack us,” Kaczenski said. “With us throwing so many things at them, it might be the first time some of the guys have seen any of those things. But they're well-coached, they have rules, and if they follow their rules, they'll be able to get on us. It's going to come down to us not getting blocked and us tackling.”
Pass blocking may be offensive key
Ron Brown has a passion for blocking. Maybe even a love of it. For more than a decade, he coached NU's wide receivers and tight ends how to run block. He's now transferred his rigorous blocking standards to the running back position. Except now, of course, it's pass blocking that he's teaching.
If Rex Burkhead doesn't play Saturday — he sat out of practice again Wednesday — the pass blocking of Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard may play a key factor in the success of NU's passing offense. UCLA coach Jim Mora has coached both a 4-3 and 3-4 and has the athletes, Brown said, to create a lot of aggressive defensive packages. So Abdullah and Heard had better be able to counter that aggression, Brown said.
Both did well in game one, Brown said.
“I've tried to teach (Heard) and Ameer that you don't have to be the biggest guy,” Brown said. “Rex is not the biggest guy in the world, but he's a great pass protector, because he plays the game with his pads down. He plays ‘half-size.' ”
In other words, Brown said, Burkhead is good at bending his knees and “wiring his hands” so he can deliver a strong block instead of catching a defender. Burkhead also makes good “last-minute adjustments” to blitzers.
Brown likes to show game tape of NU's win over Fresno State — when Burkhead picked off a number of blitzers — as evidence to Abdullah and Heard of what they can do.
“Rex knocked guys down left and right and saved protections,” Brown said. “That was a great film for those young backs to see. ... This is going to be a ‘war daddy' game. This is going to be physical and fast. Both teams have physical kids and fast kids. Who's going to win the collision battle?”
Best-blocked play not from starters
The first game clip from Saturday's win that Nebraska's offensive line coaches showed their unit during film review wasn't what you'd think.
Of all the touchdowns and explosive plays NU's offense had Saturday, assistant coach John Garrison said there was a particular inside run in the fourth quarter that was the best-blocked play of the day.
And second- and third-teamers were responsible.
Redshirt freshman tackle Zach Sterup, senior tackle Brandon Thompson, redshirt freshman tackle Givens Price, junior guard Brodrick Nickens, sophomore guard Jake Cotton and sophomore center Mark Pelini were among the guys who played on the Huskers' final drive of the game.
“They raged off the ball,” Garrison said. “When they came in there, they did a nice job. Really proud of them.”
Pensick earns high grades
Junior Cole Pensick capitalized on a predetermined substitution plan Saturday and performed well in relief of starting guard Seung Hoon Choi, Garrison said.
Pensick rotated in for Choi on Nebraska's fourth series in the first half. Then he returned for a couple of series in the second half.
Garrison said Pensick can play both guard spots and can contribute at center, if needed. He worked at guard against Southern Miss and earned high grades for his efforts.
“He played with great intensity, played physical,” Garrison said. “He did some nice things.”
Cornerback Seisay impresses coach
If practice is any indication, junior cornerback Mo Seisay will be healthy enough to make his Husker debut at UCLA on Sunday.
Seisay (ankle sprain) didn't suit up for Nebraska's opener, but he's been practicing all week. The reviews have been positive.
“Mo has had a good week so far,” secondary coach Terry Joseph said. “He looks like he's the player that he should be. We're excited that he keeps coming along.”
— Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa