The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ defense was unquestionably the Achilles’ heel of the 2012 Big Red.
While the offense consistently churned out yards and points, the defense was fluky as it oscillated between nationally competitive and utterly humiliating performances. If the 2013 Huskers hope to climb higher than the frustrating plateau upon which Nebraska has found itself, it will begin and end with the Blackshirts.
Based on the Nebraska defense’s most glaring weaknesses and the greatest opportunities for improvement, let’s consider the seven biggest ways the Blackshirts can improve in 2013.
For years, Bo Pelini’s defenses enjoyed the leadership and playmaking ability of undisputable stars. But the likes of Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amukamara were gone in 2012.
As much as fans and media alike attempted to anoint Baker Steinkuhler and Daimion Stafford the new leaders of the Blackshirts, the performances of those two players simply did not place them in the same class as their predecessors.
While this is certainly not a prerequisite for playing solid defense, the stepping up of Ciante Evans or even Jason Ankrah to lead the Blackshirts would be an invaluable commodity for the Big Red in 2013.
Throughout 2012, Husker Nation had to endure the seemingly two-faced Nebraska defense.
There were performances against a Denardless Michigan and the second half against Wisconsin in Lincoln that looked encouraging. Yet against stronger opponents, particularly on the road, the Blackshirts fell flat.
However, lucky for them the 2013 schedule will play right to the Huskers’ strengths. Having survived the initial gauntlet handed to them due to some eyebrow-raising scheduling, the Big Red will now enjoy the weaker half of the Leaders Division after facing off with Ohio State and Wisconsin for two straight years.
And don’t forget, UCLA will now be a home game as well.
Call it lack of mental preparation, poor game-planning or a reliance on in-game adjustments. Any way you slice it, the Blackshirts were just plain bad to begin many of their games.
Early touchdowns against UCLA, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin again made for tough treading for the entire Husker team.
If Nebraska hopes to break through the apparent ceiling containing them and start winning championships instead of participation ribbons, it cannot afford to continue these awful starts. If anyone doubts that, ask Notre Dame how Monday night went.
The biggest change Nebraska will see at any position in 2013 will come at linebacker. The veteran corps anchored by Will Compton will be replaced with the youthful faces of Zaire Anderson and David Santos.
Although the drop in experience will obviously be noteworthy, so will be the increase in athleticism.
Beginning with the Big Red’s trip to UCLA, it became clear that the Blackshirts did not have the speed to adequately defend the perimeter against the more athletic teams on their schedule. Nebraska can only hope that this upgrade in athleticism will solve this pressing issue.
One of the most troubling issues that permeated throughout the Blackshirts’ worst performances of 2012 was their tendency to get worse as the game progressed.
The phrase “give up” should not be thrown around lightly, but there is no denying that multiple opponents like Ohio State and Wisconsin had easier times scoring against the Big Red after the flood gates had been opened and broken tackles had become plentiful.
Considering the powerful Husker offense that will again accompany the Blackshirts in 2013, it will be highly important for the Nebraska defense to hold its composure late into games to afford Taylor Martinez more opportunities for comeback victories.
The Blackshirts certainly deserve the majority of the blame for their dismal showings in 2012. However, the Husker offense did not do them any favors.
Nebraska ranked last in the nation in fumbles lost and second to last in total giveaways.
Time and time again, they put the already struggling Blackshirts in compromising situations that only multiplied the squad’s shortcomings. If the Nebraska defense is going to make positive strides in 2013, they will likely need some help from their mistake-prone offensive counterparts.
More than anything else, the 2013 Blackshirts will need difference-makers to rise through the ranks quickly. Depending on who is counted as “starters” in 2012, Pelini may have to replace eight of his eleven Blackshirts this coming season, including his entire linebacker and safety corps.
After conceding 70 points to Wisconsin, 63 to Ohio State and 45 to Georgia, some fresh faces may not be such a bad thing.
But one can never underestimate the value of experience and veteran leadership, particularly in college athletics. Players who made small contributions in 2012 like David Santos, Zaire Anderson and Josh Mitchell are going to need to develop fast and make instant impacts for the Blackshirts next year.