LINCOLN — As good as Josh Banderas felt about his play at Indiana, the Nebraska linebacker was more excited that it seemed to be a microcosm of the Husker defense’s performance overall.
Banderas reacted quickly, filled holes and took good angles. So did his teammates.
The senior was sure and physical with his tackles. As were the other 10 on the field.
“Across the board, you just saw things clicking — things that we missed in earlier games, certain plays that we kept missing,” Banderas said Tuesday. “Everybody was just in the right spots, doing the right things, and you finally saw everything kind of coming together.”
It was one of the Huskers’ most complete games under second-year defensive coordinator Mark Banker, and Banderas contributed a season-high 11 tackles, with eight unassisted stops.
It might have raised Banderas’ expectations for the second half of his final season, now that the Lincoln Southwest graduate is more comfortable than ever with what he’s doing.
“This is definitely kind of the time where I can sit back and look at everything for what it is, and with everything in place,” he said. “It’s really a good feeling.
“It’s just better knowledge of the coaches and the schemes. And even the guys next to me, I got more trust in them to do their job, so it helps me do my job.”
Banker and linebackers coach Trent Bray would definitely take more games like Saturday’s from Banderas. It helped the Huskers limit high-powered and fast-moving Indiana to 333 total yards in the 27-22 victory, with 93 of those yards coming on three plays.
“He was just all over the place,” Bray said. “In 50 snaps having 11 tackles, that’s very productive.
“And he’s a leader. That’s the biggest thing. He calms people down. He communicates when things move or change. And having a guy like that, and having him play at that level, is big for us.”
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior hasn’t always followed a straight-line route to success or ball carriers.
He got thrown right into the fire as a true freshman in 2013, even starting four games. Just as his sophomore season was becoming a time to organize and “put everything where it needs to be,” Bo Pelini was fired and new coaches would be on the way.
Last season wasn’t easy on anybody, and Banderas dealt with injury issues, but the first six games of this season have helped make the co-captain more sure of himself than ever.
“He’s just confident with what we’re doing,” Bray said. “And with the physical changes he made in the offseason, just the way he moves is better.”
Banderas said he might have attacked the ball Saturday better than in any previous game. He just wasn’t sure why it came together in Bloomington.
“I have no idea,” he said. “Maybe I ate a better breakfast or something.
“It might have been the two weeks to prepare and watching that much film, that things were just clicking faster because I’d seen them so many times. But hopefully I can keep that film study up, if I’ve got to do that to play like that.”
Bray said Nebraska needs what Banderas brings. A big body who can hit and get to the ball would be an important piece as the opponents start getting tougher.
Banderas even added that to kickoff coverage at Indiana, asking to go back on special teams for the first time in a while.
“It was fun getting back out there,” he said, “and getting to fly around and go full speed.”
Bray said the linebacker unit overall played well last week. Work by Dedrick Young freed up Banderas to make some of his plays.
When the opportunity was there, though, Banderas trusted what he was doing instead of hesitating. He knows that’s the way it should be — and has to be.
“I’ve just got to continue to build off the games that I’ve played, and put all the knowledge and the game experience that I’ve gotten throughout my career here into one, and hopefully make the difference in the game,” he said. “Because I’ve been through it, and I can finally put it all on the field at the same time.”