The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ offseason has been engulfed by one simple question with a very complex answer: How can Bo Pelini improve his defense?
No one expected the Huskers to field a defense like they did in 2009. Superstars like Prince Amukamara and Ndamukong Suh were long gone, as were the wily veterans like Matt O’Hanlon. But Husker Nation still expected better than what they saw.
The Blackshirts were torched by every competent offense they faced. UCLA, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Georgia. Each team registered career days against a Nebraska defense that often looked disjointed, confused and unathletic in those contests.
Heading into the 2013 season, there is no question that the Huskers will again feature a potent offense. It is the defense that will need a breakthrough in order for Big Red to rise above the apparent plateau upon which it has settled the past few seasons.
And where will the breakthrough come from? Increased aggression in Bo Pelini’s defensive scheme.
The largest problems in the Huskers’ defense a year ago were likely shortcomings outside of the coaches’ schemes. Missed tackles, poor athleticism and injuries plagued the Blackshirts, particularly against their most quality opponents.
But if there was one easily changed schematic problem from last year, it might be the reactive nature of the Nebraska defense.
A few years ago, the Husker defense dictated the pace and physicality of the game. They imposed their will on offenses with brutal jams at the line of scrimmage from the cornerbacks and paralyzing pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
In 2012, however, it was Braxton Miller and the Wisconsin offensive line determining the flow of the game. They did what they wanted when they wanted, and the Blackshirts simply tried (and frequently failed) to respond to their attacks.
This fall, Nebraska will welcome many new faces to the defense, many of whom are not veteran players rising through the ranks, but young guns bursting onto the scene. And Bo Pelini needs to let their energy and speed show through in his defensive scheme.
By ditching the basic four-man fronts and soft coverages, the Huskers should implement an aggressive, risky and loose style of play. More jamming at the line, more blitz packages, more flying around the field and flocking to the ball like men possessed.
Like last season, Nebraska’s defensive line will be passable at best. But at linebacker and a little bit in the secondary, the Huskers will add many young, speedy playmakers, and they need to utilize those strengths.
Pelini may need to simplify his beloved schemes that many players have complained are more complex than anything they see in their classes. But a return to the aggression and physicality that tormented Husker opponents in their last years in the Big 12 will play to Nebraska’s strengths and promote a defensive style that imposes its will rather than reacting to opposing offenses.