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Mad Chatter: Bob Diaco's D needs to rebound quick

Everything Husker News. Huskers vs Oregon!                      

Nebraska-Oregon, Week 2: Game time, TV channel, how to watch online (09/09/2017)

Autzen louder than Penn State?

Feast or famine? Oregon will present Huskers with plenty of obstacles on this expedition

A closer look at how the Huskers and Ducks line up

Nebraska linebacker Luke Gifford's versatility will get him on the field a lot in 2017.

Autzen could become eerily quiet

Young Huskers, still learning, hope Oregon trip is some party 

Morgan could be Huskers first 1,000-yard receiver

Ducks and Huskers seek return to spotlight

Huskers show a different kind of D

Against Nebraska, Ducks must erase ugly reminder from ’16      

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Mr. Versatility has big opener

Nebraska linebacker Luke Gifford's versatility will get him on the field a lot in 2017.

It had been awhile since Luke Gifford needed an ice bath as much as he did after Nebraska’s season-opener against Arkansas State.

The junior outside linebacker played 89 defensive snaps for the Huskers in a game that Arkansas State played at a pace roughly akin to a basketball fast break on grass.

For Gifford, who began his career as a safety before transitioning to linebacker, it was his most extensive action dating back to his days as a standout at Lincoln Southeast. Gifford led the Huskers in tackles with nine.

“That was way more than I played in high school,” Gifford said. “I didn’t really think about it during the game and then afterwards they told me and I was like, ‘really? I didn’t know that.’

“I was definitely sitting in the ice bath after that.”

The game was a showcase of Gifford’s talent and progress since Bob Diaco came to Nebraska in the offseason and set to work transitioning to a 3-4 defense.

The Lincoln native found himself further down the depth chart the past two seasons, but Diaco’s arrival brought a switch to outside linebacker that seemed to invigorate the junior. He added weight to his frame and impressed in the spring with his ability to play in space, while possessing the versatility to play as a fourth defensive lineman.

Playing in the spring game with a broken hand, Gifford nabbed a one-handed interception and forced a fumble. That play carried over to the fall, where he earned a Blackshirt for the first time.

Gifford said the first game of the season was important to get under his belt.

“It was big for me,” Gifford said. “I haven’t played in a game like that since high school or the BYU game my redshirt freshman year. It was fine once I got settled in during that second half. It took me awhile to get settled in, but I felt like in the second half I got it going and at a certain point, it’s just football. You just play.”

Nebraska’s outside linebackers must be versatile players, and Gifford said he’s comfortable playing either the CAT or DOG spots in Nebraska’s defense, a testament to his skills as a defender.

That versatility is key as Nebraska game plans week to week for a variety of offenses from the spread attacks of Arkansas State and Oregon to Wisconsin’s more traditional offense. Linebackers coach Trent Bray said that Gifford is one of the “most versatile players on the defense.”

“He played outside linebacker,” Bray said. “He put his hand on the ground. He rushed the passer. That’s what we liked about Luke in that game, and in this game he gave us a lot you don’t normally get from an outside linebacker. He can do a lot of things in coverage and has the explosiveness and savvy to put heat on the quarterback and be a pain in the butt for opponents that way. He’ll probably one of the most versatile guys we have on the whole defense.”

Bray noted that he hasn’t coached a player who possesses Gifford’s mix of skill and intelligence on the field.

“He’s a unique guy who can handle a lot,” Bray said. “Some guys have been mentally able to do all that, some guys have been athletically, but not mentally. Having those things and being able to put it to work on the field, he’s one of the first, if not the only one with that kind of versatility.”

With the start in the opener out of the way, Gifford is now focusing on consistency and continuing to be a big part of Nebraska’s defense.

“I’d say I had an OK game,” Gifford said. “I missed tackles that were pretty big that can’t happen if I want to be the kind of player I want to be and some scheme things, but for the first game it was pretty clean overall.”


Michael Bruntz

A closer look at how the Huskers and Ducks line up

How do the Huskers light up the scoreboard?

1. Balance, balance, balance. Danny Langsdorf stressed it. Mike Riley stressed it. The Huskers are at their best when they’re able to run the ball and throw it. Quarterback Tanner Lee was good in the play-action passing game in the opener. Tre Bryant rushed for 192 yards. If all facets work, this is a tough group to contain.

2. Be aware of the clock, but not beholden to it. There’s a balance between trying to milk the clock and ignoring time of possession. That’s where the Huskers should be. Run the offense the way it’s supposed to be run, but don’t give the Ducks extra time when it can be avoided. Easier said than done.

3. Conversion downs. Nebraska converted 7 of 14 against Arkansas State, but two failed conversions in the fourth quarter helped keep the Red Wolves alive late. Same idea in the red zone. Field goals don’t usually win games at Oregon's Autzen Stadium.

4. Youth movement. The Huskers need continued production from JD Spielman. They may well have to rely on Matt Farniok at right tackle. Even if De’Mornay Pierson-El starts, perhaps Tyjon Lindsey’s role increases. That’s a trio of first-year players that needs to produce in each of their first live snaps on the road.

How do the Blackshirts shut 'em down?

1. Limit explosive plays. The Ducks played an overmatched opponent in Week 1, but averaged nearly 9 yards per snap. They feature home-run threats in the backfield — Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and others — and on the perimeter in senior wide receiver Charles Nelson.

2. Turn the Ducks over. This could be a key every week, of course. It will be particularly important against sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. Imagine where the Blackshirts would have been against Arkansas State without a pair of interceptions.

3. Red-zone stops. NU defensive coordinator Bob Diaco cited a non-traditional stat on Tuesday, saying the Red Wolves averaged 3.33 points per red zone penetration. That’s 20 points on six trips. The Ducks will make teams bend, but can the Huskers keep from breaking?

4. Just keep up. The Huskers’ communication got a good stress test against ASU. At times, they appeared to be fine. At others, perhaps some confusion before the snap. Diaco stresses proper alignment relentlessly. For that to happen, everybody must have the call well before the ball’s snapped.


Under the radar

Tyler Hoppes

TE, No. 88: The redshirt senior dropped a touchdown in his first start, but also set up another with an acrobatic grab. If he continues to integrate into the offense — and helps pave the way for Tre Bryant in the run game — the Husker offense can grow even more diverse and dangerous.

Dedrick Young II

LB, No. 5: There’s almost no such thing as under the radar against Oregon’s offense. The Ducks will try to put pressure on all areas of the field. The first order of business, though, is not letting Freeman and company run wild in the middle.

Three numbers to know

199: The combined yardage of UO’s Tony Brooks-James and NU’s JD Spielman on their first touches of the 2017 season.

15: Percent of offensive plays Riley says his program wants to be "explosives." The Huskers had 12 on 70 plays (17.1 percent) against ASU, per Riley.

1: Penalty in kicker Drew Brown’s career, per Riley. It came on a kickoff out of bounds in the opener. Brown was good otherwise, with five touchbacks and a pair of made field goals (21, 41).

Marquee matchup

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye against Nebraska interior offensive line

Dye earned freshman All-America honors in 2016 for recording 91 tackles (10½ for loss) and 6½ sacks. He started his second campaign with 10 stops, a sack and an interception. The free rushers Arkansas State had that Langsdorf lamented Tuesday came mostly from the linebacking level and mostly in the middle of NU’s protection. That, combined with a loud venue, makes for a big challenge for the Huskers.

Biggest mismatch

Oregon wide receiver Charles Nelson against Nebraska corners Eric Lee and Lamar Jackson

This is a mismatch mostly based on experience. Nelson has played against high-caliber corners for four years. Lee and Jackson are learning fast, but in their first years as full-time players. Nelson will be a different kind of challenge than ASU’s short passing game. Two benefits for the young Huskers: They have excellent safety help and the rest of UO’s receiving corps has not shown to be on Nelson’s level.


Oregon 45, Huskers 41

A 14-point spread in the Ducks’ favor seems out of whack. Both teams are implementing new defenses and both appear to be poised for effective offensive years. There are enough big-play threats on each offense — and enough questions on each defense — that a high-scoring afternoon seems likely. I’m all in on a shootout. At the end of the day, I’ll take the home team to put the final points on a well-used scoreboard.

The movie “Animal House” was filmed in 1977 in Eugene, Oregon, site of Saturday’s Nebraska game. Scenes were filmed at Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks football team, and Hayward Stadium, the track and field venue.

Young Huskers, still learning, hope Oregon trip is some party

Oh boy, is this great.

Have to admit, I’m pumped for this one. And not just because it’s Mike Riley returning to the state of Oregon wearing a college football brand on his shirt.

Or because it’s the next growth step for Tanner Lee. Or because we peel back another layer on Bob Diaco.

That’s compelling, sure. But there’s something extremely cool and fun about the city of Eugene and Autzen Stadium.

The movie “Animal House” was filmed in Eugene (after being turned down by the University of Missouri) in 1977.

Remember the scene where Pinto and his girlfriend are on the football field? Yep. That’s Autzen.

That’s Hayward Stadium, the famed home of Oregon track and field, in the scene where they hit golf balls. The “dead horse” scene was actually filmed in the Oregon president’s office at Johnson Hall.

Meanwhile, it’s Oregon tradition to sing “Shout” after the third quarter of each game.

I could go on, but there’s a little matter of a football game today. That doesn’t mean, however, that there can’t be a theme of the day.

— “Don’t think of it as work. The whole point is just to enjoy yourself.”

After one week, I like this Nebraska football team. I like the Huskers’ vibe. I like their enthusiasm and energy and spirit. There will be bumps in 2017, quite possibly today.

But I think it’s a group that’s going to grow and become better and have fun as the days get shorter and chillier.

That doesn’t mean today’s a freebie. The expectation at Nebraska is to win every game. Now, there’s a 3-4 defense with young players who haven’t figured it out, and a quarterback in his second game at NU who will have to negotiate the “House of Loud.”

That said, neither Riley nor Oregon coach Willie Taggart will be judged this season off this game. Riley has Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and others ahead. Taggart’s first-year priorities are USC, UCLA and Washington, etc.

The winner probably won’t join the rankings, but these are two programs looking to rejoin the national football chase. Today is about progress. The winning fan base will feel better about the progress toward that.

— “See if you can guess what I am now.”

Diaco already is one of the most fascinating assistants we’ve seen at Nebraska.

He played a vanilla 3-4 last week against an Arkansas State offense willing to take what was given. When Diaco explained Monday, he said the plan was to keep ASU in front and not break any big plays. The total yards did not matter. The score did.

That game plan wasn’t necessarily a shock. The line about not caring about the total yards was new. We haven’t heard that very often, if at all, over the years.

It was the other details that were far more interesting. Forgoing nickel and dime and having linebackers cover receivers. Having the corners provide a lot of cushion.

Not sending a lot of blitz or pressure.

There were other things that had some experts scratching their football noggins. For instance, during “Big Red Wrap-Up” this week, former NU linebacker Blake Lawrence said some defenders were so out of position that Lawrence wondered if it was on purpose — to totally confuse Oregon coaches breaking down the tape. Lawrence said Bo Pelini occasionally did that to confound opponents trying to guess what NU might do.

Would Diaco go to those lengths or was it just the first game in a 3-4 by some young guys feeling their way?

We’re all wondering what Diaco will do and show this week, and that is probably the point exactly.

What we know is that Oregon will provide similar challenges for the young 3-4 — and also make the Blackshirts work to stop senior running back Royce Freeman, who cut through NU in last year’s game before leaving with an injury.

“Ramming Speed.”

Danny Langsdorf’s offense had a feel-good opener. Sure, it could have punched in another score or two. But there were no turnovers and NU found an effective run game with Tre Bryant following good blocks and at times creating his own yards.

If there was a quibble, it might have been easing back on the run game in the fourth quarter — and using another back’s fresh legs — to wear down an ASU defense that looked gassed.

The run game and time of possession could be a helping hand until the defense finds its way.

“We always want to win that, unless you’re scoring fast,” Langsdorf said. “It’s a good thing to control the clock, for sure. But you can also have low time of possession if you’re scoring quickly or special teams is scoring or you have short drives, so it’s a little bit of a misleading stat.”

Like Diaco, expect Langsdorf to unveil some wrinkles this week, possibly with short passes that work as a run-the-clock game. But Langsdorf brings up a good point: If this turns into a wild shootout, the game plan might become turning the offense loose. You can’t worry about how you score — just score.

— “Over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

The line out of Las Vegas Friday had Oregon favored by 13 points. Is that a reaction to NU’s first-game defense? Home-field advantage? Still, it seems out of whack. Both teams figure to score here.

Meanwhile, the over-under is 691⁄2. What are the chances of both teams getting 35 points or better? Probably pretty good. What do I know? My wife won’t let me gamble.

— “Is that a pledge pin on your uniform?”

For freshmen Deontre Thomas, Tyjon Lindsey and JD Spielman, that’s an affirmative. This trio came out of the gate blazing last weekend. It’s fun to watch and that’s part of the energy around this team.

“My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

Reports from Oregon as early as Thursday were that legions of Nebraska fans were showing up for this one. Earlier this week, a Husker assistant (who came from Oregon State) spoke excitedly about the possibility of 20,000 Husker fans coming to the game.

Will this be Nebraska Invades South Bend, Part II?

— “I hate those guys.” Also, “The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.”

Riley is 1-6 at Autzen Stadium. The average margin of defeat in the six losses is 17.8, including 56-14 and 49-21. The coach put on a good face this week, but you’d better believe he’d like to take the red “N” into Duck Land and come out victorious.

Then there’s the reunion of Taggart and Diaco, who faced off the last three seasons as head coaches at South Florida and Connecticut. Taggart won all three games over Diaco — 17-14, 28-20 and 42-27.

— “Remain Calm. All is Well.”

Athletic director of the losing side if this one gets out of hand.

— “Food Fight!”

Good stuff

Mad Chatter: Bob Diaco's D needs to rebound quick

It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We’ll cover a wild night in Kansas City, that lovable Iowa-Iowa State rivalry, Carol Frost’s trying times as a mother of a Husker quarterback, NCAA transfer rules and an NFL pool you need to join.

But let’s start in the clear (enough) skies of southern Oregon, where Nebraska invades Saturday for a big nonconference game. It’s Mike Riley’s homecoming and Tanner Lee’s first road game and a critical bounce-back for Bob Diaco’s defense. Frankly, it’s a crapshoot.

The bad news, Husker fans, is that your team is a 13.5-point underdog against a team that went 4-8 last year. The good news is that oddsmakers can’t possibly know whether Oregon’s defense is better.

Nebraska can — and should — score 40 points at Autzen Stadium. The question is whether Diaco’s D gives up 30 or 50. The Blackshirts were a mess in last week’s first half. They were much better (and more aggressive) after halftime. They can’t sit back against Oregon and give up 10-yard gains. They need to make plays. Are they ready for that challenge?

Last season reminded us that November is more important than September, so we shouldn’t make too much of a 41-38 win or 45-42 loss. But a blowout — one way or the other — would tell us a lot about where this season is headed.


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