All season, former Husker and NFL linebacker Jay Foreman will be breaking down games for HuskersIllustrated.com on Monday mornings. This week, Foreman tackles Nebraska's win over Michigan. Try HuskersIllustrated.com FREE for the rest of the year
Jay thinks LeRoy Alexander is solidifying himself at safety next to Corey Cooper.
Finally. A big road win against a traditionally good school must be a huge sense of relief for the whole football staff. Not too long ago this game would have had College Gameday there, but times have changed. Regardless of the hype going into the game it was a huge game for both teams – two coaches that are under a microscope with fans wanting more. Well, one team's fans got what they wanted and the Husker faithful went home happy.
This was by far the defense's best performance both stat wise and from an execution standpoint. With seven sacks, 15 tackles for loss and -21yards rushing, the Blackshirts played like they were the real Blackshirts of old. I know the easy rebuttal is that Michigan wasn't a good offense and were struggling all season, I can't deny that, but I can say that the Husker defense went out and met every challenge it was faced with and for once imposed their will on an opposing offense. Dominating against the run enabled the Blackshirts to pin their ears back and hold Michigan to 20 percent on third downs. I hope and assume the coaches and players realize when you play well against the run that it makes the rest of the game much easier. The coaches mixed in a good mix of run blitzes from the inside with linebackers and from the outside with safeties and corners getting into the mix. Over the last four weeks I've seen more blitzes and it's worked, now this has to be the identity of the defense. One of the things that hurt this young defense early in the year was a lack of identity. No identity leads to confusion and lack of confidence.
Players trending upward
The linebackers that started. Michael Rose, Zaire Anderson and David Santos all made their plays when called upon. They played faster and with more confidence win their run reads. Even though Devin Funchess had 66 yards, he didn't dominate like tight ends have in the last few weeks. Rose and Anderson played with passion and a mentality that inspired the rest of the defense to play a full 60-minute game. Anderson was arriving to tackle with bad intentions.
The recent play of the Blackshirts against the run can't be talked about enough. Yes, the opponents have either been inferior or lower-ranked rushing teams, but with this unit and the struggles that have been present, any team would think they could have success running. What has helped? I think a smaller playbook, better communication and variety in the run blitzes.
The run blitzes have taken the weaknesses of Nebraska's linebacker corps and minimized them because now they are attacking on the snap versus waiting and getting killed by lineman. In simple terms, Nebraska's linebackers struggle with taking on and getting off blocks and run blitzes allow them a split second or two to hit their gaps or get past lineman they couldn't before. A good analogy is a boxer who doesn't fair well with inside punchers so he sets up his power punches by getting his jab off first.
I hope to see the run and pass blitzes continue because it is working and it looks as if the players have confidence when they are called. The big question is how the staff and players will react if or when they get beat on one of those calls.
Michael Rose and the defense had 15 tackles for loss Saturday.
– These last three games, look for Vincent Valentine to play a bigger role. He is the biggest defensive tackle and Nebraska will be playing three running teams. This is when he can show up big and get that starting spot back. His technique needs to improve(hands and footwork).
– More blitzing has led to more opportunities for their best pass rusher, Randy Gregory, and the defensive backfield to turn the ball over.
– Looks like a simplified game plan that has been able to create havoc in the backfield of offenses the last few weeks.
– They haven't started Gregory the last few weeks, but come the fourth quarter he is in there to be a closer.
Unsung heroes – Safety Corey Cooper and cornerback Josh Mitchell have flown under the radar, but have played a lot better than the publicity or lack there of has gotten them. Cooper has been a physical hitter in the back end that Nebraska hasn't had in a long time. Josh Mitchell has played like a dependable corner should. Mitchell makes up for lack of size with heart and speed, he is an unsung hero.
– Tommy Armstrong runs the option really well for a freshman.
– Regardless of age or stats I think the difference in leadership skills in the QB is apparent.
– Ameer Abdullah still plugging away and went over 100 yards even though Michigan defenders were teeing off on him repeatedly in the run game.
– Nebraska needs to get Cethan Carter the ball in regular offensive series.
– I think this combo of starting linebackers is a good mix of athletes and football players. We will see if they all start next week.
– Defensive tackle Aaron Curry is getting better each week.
– Happy to see Thad Randle get a quarterback sack, rushing the passer is not his specialty, but he made a huge play that gave the offense a short field.
– Rich Fisher can flat out coach.
– I wonder what the mindset is concerning the Spartans because I think after two weeks of high pressure wins, a young defense could lose focus.
Jay Foreman spent eight years in the NFL with four different teams, and starred at Nebraska as a four-year letter winner who played on Nebraska's 1995 and 1997 National Championship teams. For more takes and opinions from Foreman, check out Jay's Blog or follow him on Twitter.