LINCOLN — Nebraska assistant coach Rick Kaczenski said the Huskers are starting to get the improvement and consistency they would like to see from Aaron Curry, the sophomore expected to make his third straight start at defensive tackle on Saturday.
Part of it has just been getting Curry to settle down before games, because Kaczenski said he can be “kind of the nervous, jittery guy … and I think sometimes that kind of hindered his progress a little bit.”
“He would overexert himself before he even got to the field,” Kaczenski said. “We've just tried to cut back on that anxiety. He's got a long way to go, but he's been pretty consistent for us over the last three weeks.”
Curry started the Purdue game with a sack on the first play, which he attributed to NU defensive end Jason Ankrah forcing quarterback Danny Etling his way.
What's been the biggest difference of late for Curry?
“Just more attention to details in practice and trying to take the coaching as much as I can,” he said. “That's helping me out a lot.”
Under the radar
If you can't name the Huskers' long snapper after six games, that's exactly the way NU assistant coach John Garrison wants it.
That means true freshman Gabriel Miller is doing his job.
“You don't want your name to be mentioned,” Garrison said. “And we're not talking about him other than this, which is a good thing.”
Nebraska valued the position enough to sign Miller out of Mishawaka, Ind., as a scholarship recruit last February. Garrison knows the stress involved, especially for a true freshman, because he handled the Huskers' long-snapping duties during his first fall on campus back in 1999.
“It's just being calm and collected and doing your job, and just being consistent — and he's been that,” Garrison said. “There are things he's got to work on, as far as protection, but he's done a great job for us.”
Handling first down plays
Nebraska's overall success against Minnesota's ball-control, run-first offense Saturday will likely be determined by how the Huskers handle first-down plays.
The NU defensive coaches have been stressing it all week.
The Gophers have the second-most rush attempts in the Big Ten (314), so they're expected to stubbornly commit to their ground attack for four quarters. And if they are productive, Nebraska might have trouble getting them off the field.
“That's our goal: to keep them very, very limited on their gains,” linebackers coach Ross Els said. “Because if they hit the pile at 2 (yards) and all of a sudden fall forward for 3 more yards — which they do the majority of the time — we're in for a long day.”
In three Big Ten games, Minnesota has converted 51.9 percent of its third downs when it's needed fewer than 8 yards.
But the Gophers have reached the markers just twice on 14 third-down tries when they've needed 8 yards or more. That's where NU wants to keep them, according to defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
“For us to play the game we want to play on Saturday,” Papuchis said, “we've got to win on first and second down to get it where we want it — which is third-and-medium to third-and-long.”
Nebraska is seventh nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 28.95 percent of the time.