LINCOLN — Erik Chinander can list the problems quickly. Too many penalties. Too many rush-lane errors. Too many coverage busts.
And those are just in third-and-long situations, the Nebraska defensive coordinator said. The solution has to begin with the Huskers getting out of their own way.
“I told the kids, ‘Your job is you need to execute better; you need to play harder,’” Chinander said. “‘I need to coach you better and I need to love you harder. And sometimes loving you harder is hugging you and telling you how nice you are, and sometimes it’s putting my foot in your rear end and telling you the truth.’”
There were no additions or subtractions this week to the eight players who wear Blackshirts during workouts. A few more defenders might deserve to have them, Chinander said, but he won’t be awarding any whenever his unit allows 42 points in a home conference loss as it did Saturday.
The coach added that he frequently sees players competing hard — but never all 11 at once. One school that displays that consistency in games and seasons happens to be Nebraska’s next opponent.
“We need to get to the discipline of Wisconsin,” Chinander said. “Do we want to be Wisconsin? No, that’s not our style of football. But we need to get to the championship attitude that they have.”
Jackson responds to benching
By all accounts, Lamar Jackson continues to respond well this week after being benched in the second quarter against Purdue on Saturday.
The junior cornerback is focused and doesn’t seem to be listening to outside opinions, safety Deontai Williams said.
“He’s going harder (in practice),” Williams said. “You gotta go harder — you lost your spot. So you want to win your spot back. … You gotta be that dog and go get your spot back.”
Defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said he wants to see more from the veteran from California.
“When adversity hits, you’ve got to do one of two things — stay on the ground or get up and fight, one of the two,” Fisher said. “Right now, he’s not fighting.”
“… This is what he needs. This has been part of his development in a new coaching staff. This is just a tester for him. He needs to get up and swing. He’s practicing and not complaining. None of that is going on. He just needs to swing.”
Chinander said his message for Jackson and any other player who lost his spot is to elevate his game on weekdays.
“I don’t have 11 starters; I don’t care who starts,” Chinander said. “Practice better than everybody else and you’re the starter. You don’t practice as good as everybody else, you’re not the starter. You need to earn the team’s trust back, not mine. Not mine.”
Big, physical, imposing. Nebraska defensive line coach Mike Dawson sees all of those qualities in Wisconsin’s offensive line, which have may no peer in college football.
“When I first put them on (film), I thought they looked like the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line,” Dawson quipped Tuesday. “Their size, their type of mentality, all of that.”
It’ll be NU’s second game this season against an offense with roots in the power run game.
Nebraska’s run-in with Michigan didn’t go so well. The Huskers gave up 285 rushing yards at 6.3 yards per tote.
“We’ve got to be able to knock people backwards,” Dawson said. That means defensive linemen getting their hands on offensive linemen and resetting the line of scrimmage behind where the Badgers originally snapped the ball. NU defenders can’t “jump through gaps” because Wisconsin, with its zone-blocking scheme, will simply let its linemen ride undisciplined defensive linemen out of the play, creating big cutback lanes.
Dawson wants more “knockback,” in which Nebraska linemen go through the Wisconsin offensive linemen. That includes junior nose tackle Carlos Davis, who started in the absence of injured senior Mick Stoltenberg. Dawson said Davis made a few expected mistakes but played OK.
“Sometimes when you’re close to the ball and you’re right in front of it, things happen very, very quickly,” Dawson said. “So it’s going to happen fast for him, but he’s athletic enough and strong enough to handle it. I think that he’ll be fine.”
» Chinander said Tuesday that Nebraska’s tackling has been “OK” so far this season. Husker defenders have to improve their angles and leverage techniques on tackles, however.
» Fisher said junior cornerback Eric Lee’s practice habits and attitude changed after Fisher didn’t “give him what he was used to.” That is, playing time. Freshman Cam Taylor was held out of last week’s game, Fisher said, due to a training staff decision. Fisher said he doesn’t know if he’ll rotate Lee with Taylor or some other cornerback at Wisconsin.
“I have no problem with who I put in the game,” Fisher said. “If they’re in there, they’re in. That’s probably because, during the week, they gave it all they could.”
» Fisher said he’s impressed with sophomore cornerback Dicaprio Bootle — “he’s wearing that Blackshirt for a reason” — but coaches are pushing Bootle hard during games to make more interceptions. Bootle leads the Big Ten with 10 pass breakups.
“I’ve been driving him, driving him, driving him on that and, a couple times in the game, a couple of those pass breakups could have been picks,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t get to hear the ‘Atta boy!’ when he comes to the sideline from me. He hears what he needs to hear, and that’s ‘Go get the football.’”
» Chinander said junior Jacob Weinmaster knows what he’s doing and just needs more reps as he slides into a backup inside linebacker role in the wake of Will Honas’ season-ending knee injury. The coach added that true freshman walk-ons Joseph Johnson (Gretna) and Chris Cassidy (Lincoln Pius X) will likely get reps as emergency linebackers, too.
» Wisconsin’s offense is similar to Michigan’s in its pro-style, quarterback-under-center, large-line approach, said inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud. But the Badgers will present a different style of run game that NU must stay sound against.
“Really, it boils down to us much more so,” Ruud said. “We gotta be just more detailed in our fits, in our assignments, how we’re preparing each week. All of us, coaches included.”
» Changes to the depth chart are sending clear messages to players.
“That tells them that Scott Frost is not playing,” Deontai Williams said. “He’s not playing. You’re going to be on your stuff or you’re just going to be a poison apple to the team.”