LINCOLN — Nebraska might be off to a 4-0 start and feeling good about at least a partial defensive turnaround, but the celebrations have remained brief for the Blackshirts.
Linebacker Josh Banderas knows it won’t be any different this week when the Huskers return to practice Tuesday.
“You should have been in the film room after Oregon,” Banderas said.
With improvements have come higher expectations. With success has come defensive coordinator Mark Banker seeing an opportunity to tighten the weekly screws more than he thought advisable a year ago.
And Banker said he hasn’t seen this unit flinch one bit at the workload.
“When you’re winning, it’s so much easier to just be hard on guys and demand more,” he said. “At first they look at you cross-eyed, but then they finally figure it out.
“When you’re not winning, that’s a tough one, because you’re just trying to keep them emotionally alive, as opposed to just coaching them on technique and scheme and what not.”
Nebraska ranks No. 50 nationally in total defense (366.0 yards per game) and tied for No. 25 in scoring defense (18.0). The Huskers have yielded some ground the last two weeks in wins over Oregon and Northwestern, and that’s why Banker said the method of operation will be to keep coming.
The fact that several were hard on themselves Saturday night after the 24-13 win at Northwestern told Banker that they can handle it.
“I continue to like the stick-to-itiveness — the toughness and emotional attitude that we have right now,” he said.
Nebraska didn’t always exhibit that last season. Confidence was often taking a beating. Banker sometimes wrestled with how to push the right buttons in practice.
This season, senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said the Huskers have embraced the defensive staff not backing off or letting them be satisfied.
“We have, we definitely have,” Maurice said. “We make mistakes and we know that we’ve got to continue to correct those mistakes throughout the year, because teams are looking at film and trying to harp on things that we do wrong.
“It’s important for us as a team that we can’t be complacent. We’ve got to continue to grow.”
Some dents that Nebraska has taken have probably helped with accepting the ongoing challenge. Oregon got the Huskers for 482 total yards and 6.9 per play. Northwestern finished with 388 yards.
Banker said his defensive players not only want to do better, but better trust what they’re being asked to do. That helps up the ante in film review, meetings and practice.
“I think it’s a belief,” Banker said. “I think it’s a belief in themselves, I think it’s a belief in the group. I think it’s a situation where you got a group of guys that want to — they want to have success, they want to be good — and they think it’s important that we win.
“All that stuff put together, I think it started a long time ago with the senior group and their leadership, and being demanding of one another and not letting guys get away with anything.”
For the most part, Banker said he thinks NU defensive players “are in a good spot right now.” It’s just that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week will remind them not to get too comfortable.
“You can’t fall into that kind of high after you win,” Banderas said. “You can’t be like, ‘Yeah, we messed up here, we messed up there, but we got the win,’ because the teams the next week don’t see it as a win. They see it as, ‘They messed up here, let’s attack ’em here.’ So we have to be correcting that.
“We’ve totally bought into it and understand that this is constructive criticism that is going to help us win.”