Nebraska Cornhuskers Defensive Line Holds The Key

By Paul Troupe

The Nebraska Cornhuskers offense has been the talk of the town since a dominating performance against Southern Mississippi a week ago. The UCLA Bruins offense was also the talk of the town after they ran over, around, and through the Rice Owls defense last week.

This week, “experts” are picking the Bruins to upset the Huskers tomorrow at the Rose Bowl. It really is quite an interesting pick, because in my personal opinion, I thought the Bruins versus Owls game was much closer than the final score indicated.

Nebraska’s offense has gotten zero respect so far, but it really just has been one game. Experts are also underestimating the depth Nebraska has at running back behind Rex Burkhead.

However, the key to the game for the Huskers will be their defensive line.

Great Nebraska teams have had dominant defensive linemen. Ndamukong Suh, Grant Wistron, and Adam Carriker are just a few names that jump into mind. This year, the Huskers may not have big names, but they have depth.

Many of the players in the rotation played a substantial amount last season, and with the addition of Rick Kaczenski to the staff, the defensive line should become better as the season goes on.

UCLA’s offense was pretty balanced in their first game, rushing for 343 yards and passing for 303 more. The rushing attack was led by James Franklin’s 214 yards on just 15 carries, a ridiculous 14.3 yards per carry.

So how do the Huskers slow them down?

Pressure from the front four.

Nebraska rarely got pressure last week on the Southern Miss quarterbacks when they did not blitz. Cameron Meredith, Chase Rome, Baker Steinkuhler, along with the others were too easily blocked by a smaller offensive line.

The Cornhuskers 2 gap system has struggled against teams who run the spread with a zone read. The 2 gap system is designed to keep a containment around the quarterback, while the 1 gap has defenders rush up the field as quick as possible and put the quarterback under duress.

Nebraska’s problem with this is how to get a rush on the quarterback without getting burned. To this, Rome, Steinkuhler, and whoever else is in the middle MUST get up field and wreak havoc in the backfield.

When the interior defensive line penetrates, the quarterback must quickly decide what to do, causing a bad decision (for his team) more often than when the defense sits back. The Huskers, when playing zone read teams, could also bring a safety blitz to confuse the quarterback.

However, when the Huskers do this, instead of dropping into a zone defense, they play man. That essentially means the quarterback can throw the ball up and let his receiver make a play against a Husker defender.

So the Huskers defensive line must get up field and cause pressure, or the Huskers should bring blitzes from different angles and drop into a zone coverage. They do not always have to play zone, but they should mix it in.

In a curious fact, the Huskers in 2003 led the country in interceptions under Bo Pelini. His philosophy that season? 2 gap zone defense. Since he’s come to Nebraska as the head coach, it has been a 2 gap man defense.

If Nebraska fails to generate interior pressure, it could be a long day defensively for Nebraska.

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