LINCOLN — True, Nebraska safety Nate Gerry was ejected from the Huskers’ final two games last season. But he’d never missed a whole game in his NU career until Saturday’s season opener when he served a one-game suspension for violating team rules.
“Awful,” Gerry said of the experience. “It was tough.”
He joked he spent the bulk of Nebraska’s 43-10 win over Fresno State “just playing with a football, honestly.” Actually, though, Gerry still had a role: captain. Teammates voted for him to be a leader, and if he couldn’t lead in pads, he tried to lead with encouragement and tutorials.
He pulled aside young safeties JoJo Domann, Avery Anderson and Antonio Reed and asked them what they saw on given plays. They took mental reps — if not full game reps — together. And, a few times, Gerry added his two cents to the guys on the field.
“He was front and center when guys were coming off the field, slapping them on the butt,” senior linebacker and friend Josh Banderas said.
Said Gerry: “I stuck my nose in there every now and then, but I knew it wasn’t my place.”
Nebraska has plenty of leaders on defense — Gerry mentioned Banderas and senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey — who filled the gap.
And Gerry said safeties Kieron Williams and Aaron Williams played well in his absence. They ran to the ball, he said, and played with great effort.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Kieron and Aaron Williams also did a good job of communicating before and after the snap. Kieron Williams, Banker said, was particularly “boisterous.” Kieron Williams got his first career start Saturday and responded with a game-high 10 tackles and an interception.
“A noisy defense is a very good defense,” Banker said. “If your defense will continue to chatter before the play, during the play, you’ve got a chance.”
Gerry has been the defensive quarterback, so to speak, since 2014, when he started full-time. When he rejoins the defense this weekend, he’ll likely take the communication reins. When Nebraska goes to nickel, it’s likely that Aaron Williams will move to the nickel spot while Kieron Williams — who was still without his Blackshirt on Tuesday — stays at safety.
Banker said Gerry still has a few things to polish up.
“He’ll know what to do,” Banker said. “How to do it? We’ll have to see that. He’s going to have to sharpen up his tools a little bit. But it’s good to have him back.”
Gerry missed parts of the Iowa and UCLA games last season because officials ejected him for targeting. The one-game suspension — Gerry said he “slipped up, and it caught me at the last second” — means he’s hungry to get going in 2016. He didn’t take many of the repetitions in practice last week because he wasn’t going to play. This week, he’s ready to hit someone — preferably a guy from another team.
“You could see him flying around a little extra,” Banderas said.
The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native is also bullish on the secondary, maligned last season after giving up 290.5 passing yards per game. That ranked 122nd in the nation. In terms of yards allowed, NU is ranked 86th nationally after giving up 243 to Fresno State, but the 5.7 yards per attempt was tied for 48th. Gerry said Nebraska’s current defensive back chemistry is “second to none.”
And Gerry hinted there is more for Banker’s scheme to show opponents, although Wyoming — NU’s opponent this week — might not be the team that triggers those wrinkles.
“There’s a lot more in the tank we didn’t reveal,” Gerry said. “The depth we have this year, we’ve got a lot more in the tank than we’ve been showing people. I think that’s one thing they’re most frustrated about: not everyone stepping up where they should be at right now. We’re more Level 2 and more advanced than we’ve shown.”