The Blackshirts turned out a solid performance for the Nebraska Cornhuskers yesterday, but only to standards they have recently set. This defense is far from resembling a finished product.
They did force three and outs against the Illinois Fighting Illini yesterday which matches their best total of the season. They kept Nathan Scheelhaas in check for the most part, getting into the backfield and pressuring the Illinois quarterback. Randy Gregory continues to find his way to the quarterback and even when he cant quite catch them they can feel him breathing down their neck.
The linebackers are still a major area of concern for the Huskers. Michael Rose had a solid outing, but Jared Afalava and David Santos still lack the athletic ability to run down ball carriers and the confidence to know where to be. Confusion might be the quality that the group is best known for, outside of missed tackles.
The confusion is not limited to the players. The coaching staff had trouble figuring out what personnel they wanted on the field late in the game. It caused a few illegal formation penalties that helped Illinois score a late touchdown. Bo Pelini and John Papuchis were seen on the sideline yelling at one another. Communication might be a problem that might be an issue both on the field and in the meeting rooms.
The Blackshirts have a few weeks to gear up for the heart of their Big Ten schedule. A road trip to Purdue to face a bad Boilermaker squad should give them an opportunity to continue to tinker with putting together a winning lineup. Something has to be done at linebacker. Santos and Afalava need to learn fast or Palini and Papuchis will have no choice but to let Josh Banderas and Nate Gerry to push through the freshman wall they have hit. It’s better to have athletes that are capable of making plays to make mistakes and learn than to have guys who understand the system and don’t make an impact.
The safety position needs to be addressed as well. Corey Cooper is solid, but no one else is stepping up to fill the void on the other side. Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean Baptiste are holding their own at corner, but quarterbacks know where to throw the football and they will attack the safety position until someone can prove to be adequate.
Bo Pelini has some thinking to do as well. I don’t believe for a second that John Papuchis is anything more than a guy who signals in the plays to the defense on game day. This is Bo Pelini’s defense. He calls the shots. The little shouting match between the two coaches is nothing to really make a huge deal out of. Coaches yell at each other all the time. What should be a concern is that Pelini’s defense has not improved enough to keep things as they are.
One of two things needs to happen, possibly before the end of the season. Either Pelini needs to demote Papuchis to just the defensive line coach and take over coordinator duties himself, or he needs to fire Papuchis and find a replacement in the offseason. It’s never fun to suggest that a coach should be fired during the season, even an assistant, but something needs to change and fast.
The defense that Nebraska put on the field yesterday would be nothing more than shark bait to Northwestern and Michigan. Think about Venric Mark and what he might do to this defense. Compound that with a two headed monster in quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Simeon, and the Huskers have until the first week of November to get everything fixed.