Southern Miss 284 yards, Illinois 372 yards, South Dakota State 465 yards, UCLA 504 yards and Wyoming 602 yards. It is clear that the Blackshirts are going to give up some yards as this season goes on. I don’t think that is something we are going to see change, but we may have seen the Blackshirts find an identity Saturday against Illinois. Bend don’t break.
On a windy day in Lincoln the defense still managed to give up 197 yards rushing, but when it mattered they rose to the occasion and made a play. I hope they learned something from that.
This isn’t Pelini’s defense from 2009 and they shouldn’t expect to be. I expect to see the chains move on our defense almost every week, but this defense has enough talent and athleticism to force the punt when it matters.
Take a look at the first quarter against Illinois. They come out in the first defensive series and get a sack on third down to get a three and out. If they can get out early and make a stop, that will only fuel the fire for this young defense. When you are dealing with young players, momentum is everything. Going out and giving up a touchdown on the first series shatters your confidence. So I think fast starts for this defense are as important as anything.
Second defensive series, the Illini offense started to get the wheels turning. Before they could really take off, Corey Cooper forces a fumble and LeRoy Alexander recovers it to get the ball back to the offense. You can’t say enough about this defense’s big-play ability. They may be giving up the yardage, but this team has 12 takeaways so far this season and 10 of those are interceptions, which is sixth best in the country.
On the final defensive series of the first quarter, Illinois offense started rolling again and after a stop on the third down the Illini went for a fourth-down conversion. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw a perfect pass that would have been good for the first down, but Stanley Jean-Baptiste had one of the better hits of the game to jar the ball loose. Nebraska offense takes over on downs.
That first quarter set the tone for the rest of the game defensively. The Illini may have kept the chains moving, but the defense made just enough plays to keep them out of the end zone. Illinois didn’t score a touchdown until there was 5:54 left in the third quarter.
It was like the players and coaches finally realized who they were and what it will take to win ball games. Just slow the game down and use the athleticism to keep the big plays coming. This offense may not be the second coming of the Scoring Explosion, no matter who the quarterback is, but if the defense can replicate last week's performance, the offense will be able to supply enough points to walk away winners. I hope this is a sign of what is to come from this defense that is maturing with every game it plays.
Brian Bosiljevac is a freelance writer and Omaha native now living in Kansas City, Mo. You can contact him at email@example.com. New to Twitter. Follow him at @brianbosiljevac. Thanks for reading.