LINCOLN — It might not look right at first.
Wisconsin will line up with power personnel that could dictate Nebraska putting three linebackers on the field Saturday night.
It’s a base defense that has virtually been nonexistent through the Huskers’ first four games because their nonconference opponents have all relied almost predominantly on some form of spread offense.
Will Compton at middle linebacker. Sean Fisher in the strongside (Buck) role. Either Alonzo Whaley or David Santos at the weakside spot.
At the same time.
“It’s a three-’backer defense when they’re in two-back sets or two-tight end sets,” NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “So with Will and Fish and Alonzo and David Santos, we’re going to find the right mix at that ’backer spot.”
Compton has been the only Husker linebacker getting steady work so far, and he leads the team with 34 total tackles.
The NU nickel defense has kept Fisher off the field in favor of Ciante Evans. The dime package also removes the weakside linebacker for Corey Cooper.
But Papuchis said there won’t be any major adjustment this week, because when NU installs its defense, the “roots of it” are the base theory and base personnel.
“So that’s always something that we work on and teach and install through fall camp and spring football,” Papuchis said. “We haven’t had a chance to do it a lot this season, but our guys are real comfortable with our base defense and our base package. Obviously with Wisconsin coming in we’re going to utilize that a lot.”
It didn’t work out too well for Nebraska a year ago, when Wisconsin sliced through that base defense — that at the time included Lavonte David — on the way to 48 points and 486 total yards.
Fisher was among those who struggled against the Badgers, but was playing only his fifth game after returning from a severe leg injury.
“Last year he probably wasn’t 100 percent, and it limited him,” Papuchis said. “But he keeps working, he keeps fighting and he’s progressing, and I think when he’s gotten opportunities he’s done some good things.”
Those opportunities have been extremely limited for the senior from Millard North. The majority of the time he’s been on the field has been as the middle linebacker in the dime or nickel when Compton is out.
But Papuchis also said that Fisher has known “his time’s coming.”
“The thing I love about Fish is he’s a guy that every day comes to work and works his butt off in practice, even though he hasn’t really reaped the benefits a lot with playing time,” Papuchis said. “But this week he got to play (vs. Idaho State), and next week and going forward with the Big Ten schedule he’s going to be on the field a lot more.”
Whaley started the season at the weakside linebacker spot, but Nebraska has taken looks at Zaire Anderson and Santos in an attempt to put more speed on the field. Anderson was then lost for the season last week after suffering a torn ACL.
Against Idaho State, when NU almost strictly played dime, Whaley was inserted on a few occasions as a pass-rushing defensive end. Papuchis said coaches wanted to try something new when Whaley isn’t on the field at linebacker.
Overall, the 73-7 win against Idaho State probably didn’t give the Husker defense any better idea of its standing heading into the Big Ten despite holding the Bengals to 210 total yards.
“From a statistical perspective you’re pleased with it,” Papuchis said. “But it is what it is.”
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