Published Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:49 pm
Once under fire, Husker defensive line gets hot

LINCOLN — The Nebraska defensive linemen knew from the game plan for Saturday that they would get plenty of help harassing Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.

They also knew what that meant for them.

But the result was even better than NU defensive tackle Thad Randle could have imagined.

“I knew we were going to get pressure,” he said, “but I didn't know it was going to be like that.”

Nebraska sacked Gardner seven times in the 17-13 victory. Its 15 tackles for loss were the most by a Husker defense since the 2009 Big 12 championship game loss to Texas.

And plenty of the damage was done by a defensive line that had been waiting for a Saturday like this.

“We were ready,” Randle said. “When we had seen with Michigan State (the week before) that they had trouble with pressure, we said, 'OK, we're going to bring pressure.' And so you're like, 'It's time to get it now,' because we're a better defense when we move around because we're so athletic and quick.”

With Nebraska bringing six and sometimes seven defenders, it created mayhem for the Wolverines' pass protection and more opportunities than usual for the Huskers' front four.

The payoff was three sacks by defensive end Randy Gregory and one each by Randle and defensive end Avery Moss. NU defensive linemen accounted for seven of the 15 TFLs.

From the start, the pressure seemed to affect Gardner.

“We knew they had good receivers on the outside and Devin Gardner's a great athlete, so you can't really give him time to be back there,” NU defensive end Jason Ankrah said. “He's either going to tuck it and run or find one of those guys. So we just had to get to him fast and make him duck down, and that's where we made our plays at.”

NU defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said the Huskers had taken into account what Michigan State had done against the Wolverines. Still, his defensive linemen had to do their work to make it happen.

“Any time you go into a game you just want them to execute and play hard,” Kaczenski said.

The tricky part was making sure that the Huskers balanced their pressure with containment of Gardner. That still fell on the linemen, making it no different than if Nebraska had chosen to stick to a four-man rush.

“You've still got to be sound in your rush lanes,” Kaczenski said. “I think that was key with what we did with Gardner.”

Gardner had no run longer than 7 yards. The lost yardage from sacks left him with a minus-32 rushing total.

But Randle said NU never felt as if it could let down its guard against the junior from Detroit, though it was inflicting steady punishment on a quarterback who also had taken a ton the week before.

“He's a hell of a player,” Randle said. “He's a warrior. He's been hit a lot and he keeps coming back. I have a ton of respect for that guy. He's got a lot of heart, and I respect him as a player.

“We just tried to give him a lot of different things and just keep him on his toes and keep him in the pocket.”

It was another big game for Gregory, the junior college transfer who has been playing at an All-Big Ten level. Kaczenski said Gregory is “really becoming a smart football player,” a good addition to the raw talent that was evident on several plays Saturday.

“He's able to erase some mistakes a lot easier than some other guys,” Kaczenski said.

Both Gregory and Ankrah said after the game that they knew by formations what Michigan would do. The pressure had an impact almost immediately — and the defensive linemen just fed off the momentum and the plan.

“No D-lineman wants to stay stagnant the whole game and just let people pummel them,” Ankrah said. “So once we heard the movement we were just, 'All right, let's go. Key the ball and get upfield and go make a play.' ”

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the game:

Video: Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong after the game:

Video: Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah after the game:

Video: Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory after the game:

Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.



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