It would be unfair to say the Blackshirts are "back" just yet.
That doesn't mean the group isn't close.
The 2013 season was one filled with ups and downs for the Nebraska defense. By the end of it, the highs began to far outweigh the lows. That should be a positive sign for Husker fans—especially with how rocky the season had started.
Fans believed that the young defense must be pretty great if he was willing to do that.
The Huskers' first few matchups proved otherwise. The group was less than impressive against Wyoming. When UCLA rolled into town, the Blackshirts fell apart against the Bruins in the second half.
Pelini said the unit was young. He even admitted to the Associated Press (h/t FoxSports.com) that there were issues that needed to be fixed, but was clear that he would fix them.
All the Blackshirts needed was a little time.
As noted by the Daily Nebraskan, the defense was helping to make up for injuries on the offensive side of the ball by the end of the season.
Players like defensive end Randy Gregory were a major part in the jump forward. His resurgence, which was detailed by Bob Hamar of The Independent, made a huge impact on the team.
One of the areas he contributed to most prominently was the group's sack total in 2013. According to HuskerMax.com, Nebraska boasted 35 sacks as a team. Gregory alone recorded 9.5 sacks.
The fact that Gregory will return in 2014 is a big win for this group.
The Blackshirts will lose a few key players this season. Notable players are Thad Randle, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ciante Evans and Jason Ankrah.
While their presence will be missed, the young Nebraska defense has proved it is ready.
With Gregory leading the way, the Huskers don't have much to worry about on defense. Filling the spots of Randle, Jean-Baptiste, Evans and Ankrah may not be easy, but this group has shown it will try.
The 2013 season was an interesting one for the Blackshirts.
Fans' excitement around the group quickly changed to worry. By the last regular-season matchup, fans had swapped their opinions back. The defense had become more consistent than the offense at times.
Nebraska has always been known for its stout defensive units. That hasn't always been the case in the last couple of years, but it's clear the group is working its way back.
It was fitting that the Blackshirts came together and played big in the second half of 2013 too. Nebraska was celebrating 50 years of Blackshirts, after all.
With a lot of history and tradition behind it, the Nebraska defense is improving.
The Blackshirts may not be back just yet. Still, they're closer than ever.
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