NU MIDSEASON REVIEW
Coming out of Nebraska's bye week, The World-Herald takes a look back at the first half of the season and how the Huskers got to 4-2. From the top offensive and defensive plays to team MVPs, relive the first six Husker football games of 2012. Full coverage
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Bloodied. But not beaten.
That'd be one way of describing Nebraska's defense at the midpoint of the 2012 season. The unit has struggled at times with basics — coverage, tackling, assignments — yet bounced back from mistakes to play surprisingly well at times.
Before the season, coach Bo Pelini touted this senior-laden unit as possessing the smarts to run more of his complex scheme and the secondary talent to defend the pass. Meanwhile, critics wondered how NU would be better this year despite losing the best three players — Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard and Jared Crick — from last year.
Through six games, the tape suggests both parties were right to a certain extent.
>> NU is blitzing more and playing aggressively, ranking sixth nationally in sacks and 17th in tackles for loss. A 73-7 win over Idaho State helps, of course, but the Huskers are getting more quarterback press than last year.
>> The pass defense has slightly improved. NU is 32nd nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing just more than 50 percent of opponent passes to be completed. Last year, the Huskers ranked 34th at the end of the season, and allowed a 53 percent completion rate.
>> The run defense, at least right now, is worse. NU is 92nd nationally, giving up 189.17 yards per game. Twice this year, the Huskers have allowed more than 300 rushing yards.
>> The Huskers have been gashed twice in losses to UCLA (653 yards, 36 points) and Ohio State (498 yards, 49 offensive points). In both games, players didn't execute Pelini's scheme, or couldn't make plays within it. Linebackers and safeties appeared confused as to coverage assignments. Adjustments were being made as the ball was snapped.
>> NU has missed many tackles. Lacking “eraser” athletes like David, Dennard and Crick, Nebraska had to rely more on its adherence to Pelini's scheme. Even when defenders have been in position, they have not always made plays.
“Keep working at it, keep stressing it,” said Pelini on his monthly radio show when asked about tackling. “Nothing magical you can do. We practice tackling just about every day. What are you gonna do?”
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>> Though some younger players — including true freshman defensive linemen Avery Moss and Aaron Curry — have played some spot duty, Pelini's defense requires more conceptual knowledge and seasoning than many young players currently possess. Pelini has repeatedly said his defense works when executed correctly. And when it has been executed correctly — as it was in wins over Arkansas State and Wisconsin — it indeed looked strong. The Huskers held the Badgers to 295 total yards and 56 rushing yards.
“Contrary to what you guys think,” Pelini said after that game, “I haven't forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run.”
One week later, Ohio State rolled up 371 rushing yards, quarterback Braxton Miller cruising through big holes.
Which defense will show up the second half of the season? And will it be the same one the next week?
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