Monday notebook: Run defense takes big step back vs. UW

Husker Online

As Mike Riley looked over the final stats of Saturday night’s 38-17 loss to Wisconsin, he only needed one number to tell pretty much the whole story of what went wrong for Nebraska.


That was the Badgers rushing yardage total on 49 carries on the night, which also included three touchdowns and eight lost yards that came while kneeling out the final seconds in the Victory formation.

“When you look at statistics and you see that one team ran for 360 and the other team didn’t, it’s not hard to pick the winner,” Riley said.

It wasn’t a total shock that a UW team which came in ranked second in the Big Ten and 24th nationally in rushing at 233.8 yards per game had success running the football.

But what was especially concerning for the Huskers was the way the Badgers took total control of the game on the ground, running it on 32 of their final 35 plays, including all 22 of their snaps in the fourth quarter for 125 yards.

Junior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg blamed a lack of discipline from Nebraska’s defense across the board for their worst performance against the run this season.

“We need to be a lot more disciplined in our run fits,” Stoltenberg said. “We need to be more physical at every level, and I think that goes back to the way we practice and the way we prepare.”

A specific example Stoltenberg used was how NU struggled to contain the edges against Wisconsin’s outside zone runs, some of which broke for big plays when the backs turned the corner and got to the second level of the defense.

“On some of those outside zone plays where they try and stretch you from sideline to sideline, it’s easy to get out of your gaps sometimes if you’re not moving fast enough or you’re out of position or you don’t come off the ball the right way,” he said.

“That’s something that we definitely have to look at when we watch film today and something we can definitely work on in practice.”

Riley said it wasn’t just the physicality in which the Badgers ran the ball that gave Nebraska problems, but also the “condensed” formations that caused issues with defensive player assignments.

As a result, Riley said some Huskers began going away from their responsibilities and tried to guess where the plays were going, which led to even more breakdowns against the run.

“When you’re struggling with your run defense, somebody is trying to overcompensate,” Riley said. “It’s got to be real team defense across the board, and we weren’t always perfect in that way. Somebody’s trying to overcompensate for what’s happened, and that gets you into more trouble.”

- Robin Washut

Offensive line gets mixed reviews after Wisconsin loss

Facing without question the most talented defense it had seen all season against Wisconsin, the overall reviews of Nebraska’s offensive line performance were actually pretty good.

The Huskers ended up posting 381 total yards against a UW squad that ranked fourth nationally in total defense, giving up just 247 yards per game.

They also saw running back Devine Ozigbo rush for a career-high 109 yards, marking the first opposing back to break the century mark vs. the Badgers since LSU’s Leonard Fournette in last season’s opener.

Nebraska also didn’t allow a single sack on quarterback Tanner Lee in the game against defense tied for second in the Big Ten in sacks coming in.

“I think they did a great job,” Lee said of his offensive line. “That was a good (defensive) front with a consistent, tough pass rush, and I was able to have time and go through reads and get through my progressions well.

“I think they played their butts off. I think that was a good challenge for them and will get them especially ready for this week.”

It wasn’t all praise for the o-line after reviewing the game film, though. As good as the group was in the first half, Nebraska managed just 68 yards of total offense in the second half, including eight rushes for nine yards.

“In our run game, it’s just feast or famine,” Riley said. “Some good runs, but too many nothing runs. We’ve got to be more consistent in our running game.”

- Robin Washut


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Spielman breaks out as third-down target

When redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman won the starting job at the slot wide receiver to begin the year, Nebraska coaches looked to the 5-foot-9 speedster’s versatility and athleticism to help create mismatches.

However, not even his teammates could’ve expected the first-time receiver to become a lethal possession wideout - especially on the money down.

Spielman hauled in five of his six total receptions to move the chains on third down, providing 71 percent of the Huskers’ conversions on the night.

"I think he’s the perfect third-down threat, and in any situation,” Lee said. “He’s so quick and shifty … he’s just a great player in that way.”

A jack-of-all-trades in high school, Spielman had never been a receiver before putting on the scarlet jersey. The Eden Prairie, Minn., native rushed for over 12 yards per carry as a running back his senior year of high school.

Seeing up and down production the first three games, Spielman burst onto the scene with five catches and his first career touchdown against Rutgers, pushing the Scarlet Knights defense outside the hashes.

But against the best defensive opponent to date, Spielman’s routes over the middle became Lee’s security blanket.

"I think we have been doing a good job of moving him around and finding different ways to get him open,” Lee said. “He's been doing a great job making those clutch catches and moving the chains."

Each one of those receptions was vital in a second half when Nebraska could muster only 68 yards of total offense. Two of Spielman’s third down conversions came on a crucial drive in the third quarter as Nebraska tried to rally from a touchdown deficit.

Riley had some of the highest praise for Spielman following the game, saying the freshman “doesn’t blink” and expressing excitement about his future.

“He’s a real competitor,” Riley said. “He’s going to get better and better as he understands how to play in that slot and the things that he can do in that slot.

“I’ve had all different kinds of slot backs, but his prototype is one that can really be exciting."

- Matt Reynoldson

Buckeyes clicking on all cylinders after early loss

After suffering a disappointing home loss to Oklahoma, you can argue that no team is playing better in the Big Ten right now than Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have won their last four games since losing to the Sooners, and they outscored Maryland and Rutgers the last two weeks by a combined score of 118-14.

In fact, the Buckeyes put up 628 yards of total offense against Rutgers two weeks ago, but even more impressive this past week was they held Maryland to just 66 yards of total offense.

“They’ve been hitting on all cylinders for sure, Riley said. “Defensively, playing fast, and they’re talented, and they play fast, and they’re well coached, and the same thing offensively.”

The key for them continues to be what quarterback JT Barrett can give them on offense. When Barrett is on, he’s as good as any quarterback in college football. Nebraska unfortunately learned that last season in Columbus.

“Guy’s had a lot of experience playing football,” Riley said of Barrett. “I think that it shows more and more all the time. I think the comfort level he has is high.”

- Sean Callahan


Quick hits

***Running back Mikale Wilbon (ankle) was suited up and practiced on Monday, but running back Tre Bryant (knee) did not.

***Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Cole Conrad has been getting reps at guard, and they also want to get David Knevel more involved going forward.

***Langsdorf said there has been far too much “feast or famine” in the running game lately. While the overall yards per rush average has been OK, there have been way too many zero- and one-yard runs. Langsdorf said there has to be more consistent production out of the run game, especially on early downs.

***Langsdorf said Leehas played “really good” the last two games, making smart decisions with the ball, throwing accurate passes and showing good pocket presence.

***Langsdorf said Lee’s season completion percentage, which is now around 54 percent, should be higher if the Huskers didn’t have so many drops from their receivers. Langsdorf said they counted four drops on catchable passes against Wisconsin.

***Langsdorf said receiver Tyjon Lindsey was still coming along in his development, but he’s still making rookie mistakes. Langsdorf said he’s still excited about Lindsey’s potential, but he’s still got some learning to do.

***Langsdorf said Ohio State’s defense was “exceptionally fast” and strong up front. With a really good secondary that he said locked NU up last season, the Buckeyes are able to rush just four linemen, still get good pressure, and devote seven guys to coverage.

***In their nickel and dime packages, Langsdorf said Ohio State uses four defensive ends that really cause problems with pass protection. He said OSU end Nick Bosa plays just like his brother, Chargers DE Joey Bosa.

***Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said Wisconsin actually didn’t blitz much at all on Saturday night, which played a part in the o-line not allowing a sack on Lee. Still, Langsdorf said NU gave up eight hits on Lee in the loss, which were far too many.

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