LINCOLN — Nebraska defensive players were being told all along to believe, even through some of the tough times in September when three of four nonconference opponents were punishing not only their stat sheet but their psyche.
Some players naturally might have had reservations, especially the host of redshirt freshmen and true freshmen who were front and center as the Blackshirts took their share of lumps.
“Now they see it,” NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis said recently.
Papuchis hopes a little taste of success goes a long way as Nebraska prepares for the second half of the football season. The Huskers started Big Ten play with two sound performances, and cornerback Ciante Evans said those efforts against Illinois and Purdue were as valuable to the upperclassmen as to the freshmen.
“You always need something positive to help build your confidence or your trust level,” Evans said. “Especially playing on defense.”
The near-shutout last weekend at Purdue wasn’t going to wow anybody, considering the Boilermakers rank last in the Big Ten — by far — in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense.
But pushing the needle in the right direction in any statistical category for the Huskers is welcome progress in Papuchis’ book.
“Even though we’re not where we want to be statistically, we’re moving up,” he said. “I think they’re excited about the fact that they lead the Big Ten in sacks (17). I think they’re excited about the fact that they have all the turnovers that they have (14), and we’re one of the tops in the country in interceptions (11). I think they’re excited about the fact that we’re in the top 15 in the country or whatever in third-down defense (No. 15 at 28.9 percent opponent conversions).
“I mean, those are things that you can hang your hat on and point to as positives. Now, obviously there are some statistical categories that we’re not very good in, and they’re aware of that, too.”
There’s no statistical measure for belief, of course, but Papuchis knows the value of it.
“Any time you start getting results, it makes it a lot easier to put in the work,” he said. “And they’re starting to see results.”