All season, former Husker and NFL linebacker Jay Foreman will be breaking down games for HuskersIllustrated.com on Monday mornings. This week, Foreman tackles the season-opener against Wyoming.
Jay Foreman likes what Randy Gregory brings to the table at defensive end.
Well what a difference a week can make when it comes to the Husker faithful following a game. Last week, it was doom and gloom. The feeling was that Nebraska would be lucky to win seven games even with an easy schedule because the defense approached a record that nobody would want -- the worst yardage performance by a defense in the long history of Nebraska. It was magnified by the fact that Wyoming wasn't a team that was thought of to be a challenge, but the Cowboys proved otherwise. As a fan, analyst and alumnus, I can only evaluate what I see on a game-to-game basis and then try and formulate a solid opinion. Last week was a BIG bump in the road but this week.....?
I looked at this week almost in the same sense as last. As a defense and team, Southern Miss was a team Nebraska should beat pretty easily. Unlike last week, the defense played fast, hungry and with an attitude that is expected of a Blackshirt defense. Like I've said many times, this defense is led by the backfield. The defense played well on third down holding Southern Miss to 4-of-13 (30 percent) on third down. Nebraska’s defense also improved its yards per play against them to 4.4 yards per play, which had been a huge factor in Nebraska's struggles the previous three games dating back to last season.
Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste both stepped up their play and led by example, but also displayed a relentless fire that wasn't seen the previous week. I think their early interceptions inspired the younger players to let loose. Obviously Randy Gregory is proving to be more than an unknown, he is for real. He is the closest thing to a 90s pass rusher that Nebraska has had on the edge in a very long time.
It was a surprise that the coaching staff decided to start two true freshmen -- Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas -- after just one game. This move proved to work pretty well as both looked comfortable and confident. Starting that early in your career isn't easy. I started as a redshirt freshman, and that really made me focus and mature a lot earlier than the guys in my class. For the first two or three games I wanted to make sure I didn't make a huge mistake, but mainly wanted to do my job right and make the plays I wanted to. After we played Michigan State on national TV, and I played well, that's when my confidence grew. But I was on a senior led defense so it was easier to make that transition.
Overall the defense played as it should and took a step in the right direction leading into a big game against UCLA. This performance couldn't have come at a better time for such a young defense and could be the type of performance that leads to bigger things in the future.
Player(s) trending upward
I usually highlight one player, but this week I will triple that and include three.
Josh Banderas: Banderas has shown in two games that playing in big games is not too big for him. Between him and Michael Rose, I think the Blackshirts have two young leaders that will become quality players very soon.
Ciante Evans: Evans has been a quality player in a variety of roles throughout his career, but judging from his play late last year and these two games it looks as if he has taken his game and leadership to a new level.
Randy Gregory: His potential is high and he is still a work in progress, but I think it’s time to let him loose. He is Nebraska’s best pass rushing end and he can hold his own against the run. I think there is no need to hold him back, play him until he needs a breather. Gregory plays a lot faster than any other D lineman Nebraska has. He has a couple rush moves that he uses, and does a good job of using his hands to engage and dis-engage blockers. The plus is that he plays hard and makes plays away from him that most others on Nebraska's defense can't. He’s one of the few game changers Nebraska has in the front seven.
After get exposed against Wyoming when faced with backfield motion, the coaching staff made adjustments on how to play that motion. One adjustment was to play more zone against backfield motion and motion to no backs. This gives the defensive players better vision to see run or pass and allows them to play faster and more aggressive. Good move in my opinion. Also look for a few more pressure blitzes when faced with backfield motion and no backs in the future.
-- Randy Gregory is for real. Has tons of potential and can be great if he wants to. The best part is the he wears No. 44 and represents is well.
--The overall play of the defensive backfield has been good so far. Nebraska will need more efforts like Saturday night for the Blackshirts and team to reach their goals.
-- Corey Cooper looks to be coming into his own as a safety. He looks to be just as good or better as the duo from last year. I think Cooper is finally at a position to where he can get comfortable and confidence where as earlier in his career they had him playing the dime in passing situations. Athletically and speed-wise he's better and he's a good hitter.
--Who will be the other end opposite of Gregory to provide push? Better yet, will the coaches have one strong side end and Gregory always to open side to magnify his pass rush?
-- I think -- or better yet know -- Ameer Abdullah can deliver the mail when needed. For his size he runs with a physicality. His ability in the passing game will pay dividends soon.
– Nebraska pressured a little more but that was mainly due to the fact that the quarterback for Southern Miss isn't mobile at all. Nebraska's coaches knew they could get to him and get him to force throws which led to four interceptions.
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.