LINCOLN — Players and coaches agreed Monday that the social media hand-wringing about Nebraska’s defense isn’t exactly off base. Small details have snowballed into an avalanche of third-down mistakes, red-zone gaffes and assignment confusion.
But those in the football program also expressed a second consensus: The answer isn’t to make yet another coaching change.
NU coach Scott Frost called defensive coordinator Erik Chinander one the smartest coaches he’s been around. Each Husker “adores” the coach, Frost said. With the way players swarm to the ball and tackle, he’s seeing better effort from the Blackshirts than what he witnessed from afar in recent years.
What’s missing, though, is attention to the little things. A personal conviction to do the job perfectly all the time. The famed units in the late 1990s didn’t need such reminders, Frost said.
“It falls on us as coaches to make sure that happens,” Frost said. “Some of the responsibility is on the players — when they have an opportunity to make a play, they gotta get it done. And Chins is the right guy to make sure that happens.”
Senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said Chinander “blames himself first” after tough games. But he prepares players well — NU had good practices Monday and Tuesday, when the defense focused on first and second downs, respectively. That wasn’t the case for third-down Wednesday, and the Huskers allowed Indiana to convert 7 of 14 times in those situations (along with 2 of 2 on fourth downs).
Communication, Barry said, was the worst it’s been all season against Indiana. That’s on players.
Making a coaching change won’t have a positive effect, he said. He’s on his third defensive coordinator in his five-year Husker career. The program itself hasn’t had a D-coordinator last longer than four years in the 21st century, though former coach Bo Pelini was the de facto leader of the defense during his seven-year tenure.
“I’m tired of people putting pressure on coordinators, this, new this, new that,” Barry said. “That’s not going to work. We need consistency. That’s what’s going to have this program where it needs to be, is consistency, is the same coordinator, is the same head coach, is the same stuff like that is what is going to get a culture built.
“You can’t keep on rebuilding, rebuilding. It’s not going to work. It’s just not. I think it’s something that people have to have patience and leaders, players, gotta play better. That’s how we’re going to fix it.”
Frost still trusts Mills
Dedrick Mills paused on Monday when asked why, after he got action early in Nebraska’s 38-31 loss to Indiana, his carries tapered off. Mills had seven carries in the game’s first four drives and just one after that. He finished with eight carries for 30 yards.
“I can’t really tell you — that’s the coaches’ decision,” Mills said. “I don’t really know. Every time I get the chance to run the ball, I’ll do it.”
Mills then speculated that his playing time got reduced because of a missed block on quarterback Noah Vedral’s fumble, which Indiana recovered and returned to the NU 8. The Hoosiers then scored a touchdown.
“It’s kinda pretty much the reason I didn’t get back in, I guess,” Mills said. “I’m just guessing, but that was pretty much the only thing I messed up that bad on.”
Frost said he trusts Mills, who did not lose playing time because of the mistake.
“It was more a situation that Wan’Dale was making plays,” Frost said. “We needed to make some big plays to try to get back in the game once we got behind. Wan’Dale had missed some practice. It was easier for him to go in at running back than it was at receiver with some of the new schemes we had. So, it had more to do with that than us not trusting Mills. Everybody is going to make mistakes. Mills cares and he’s going to give us everything he has.”
Purdue star ‘a really good friend’
Robinson doesn’t like to waffle on the field or off. Make a decision and stick with it.
But asked whether he would prefer to see Purdue’s Rondale Moore — a friend he spent much of high school training with in Kentucky and whose versatile, explosive game mirrors Robinson’s — on the field Saturday, the Nebraska playmaker didn’t have a firm answer. Moore has been out the past four games with a hamstring injury.
“Yes and no,” Robinson said with a laugh. “I hope he comes back, obviously, because I just love seeing him play. I think our games are a little similar. But I don’t want him to cause our defense fits, either. Either way, I’ll be happy to see him.”
Robinson called Moore “like a brother” to him during the recruiting process. It also helped to practice with another elite talent pushing him to get better. They still FaceTime and text periodically and meet up to work out during school breaks.
Moore has 29 catches for 387 yards and two touchdowns in four games this year. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Monday he would wait until later in the week to determine whether the sophomore would play against the Huskers on Saturday. The Boilermakers have scored a combined 33 points in their past three losses without the standout.
“I’m sure we’ll talk at some point this week,” Robinson said. “I’ll try to get a word out if he’s playing or not. I don’t know if he’ll want me to put that out there or not, though. But that’s a really good friend of mine and that I’ll always keep in touch with.”
Nick Henrich impresses
Barry said he continues to be impressed by true freshman and Omaha Burke graduate Nick Henrich. The senior captain said Henrich flashed all the physical tools needed for the position in the spring before undergoing shoulder surgery. The linebacker’s recovery and knowledge of the schemes have turned heads as well.
“He’s definitely a guy, if he didn’t get hurt, would have been playing this year,” Barry said. “Definitely. He had a real good spring. That shoulder injury slowed him down, but looking to next year and the years after, he’s going to be a real good player for us.”
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