Bruns: In the world of college football and the positions they've been in, I've got to give them an ‘A'. They have been put in some very bad spots. I look at the Oklahoma State game. We were in that game deep into the third quarter without any offense and with terrible special teams play, because the defense was playing that well against an outstanding running game. Are their things they can do better? Yes. But they've really stepped up and made plays all over the field.
In my mind, Tyson Smith is playing the best football of his career by far. It will be interesting to see how he gets back from this injury. Losing Brandon Brown is a tremendous loss, because he's a talented guy that gives you everything all the time. He loves to win and has a great attitude. You look at a guy like Ellis Hobbs. He's the real deal, the full package. From playing to leading to being a coach on the field, you can't ask for anybody better. That's the recipe for a heck of a group that's playing hard together and making plays.
CN: This group was actually pretty solid last season, but was put in some bad situations, and left on the field for long periods of time by a pad offense. That led to some bad performances late in the season. Did this defense come out this season with the mindset that they were going to make an even bigger impact?
Bruns: They're more united than they have been in year's past, and are all playing with the same pulse. They all flow to the ball and trust each other to be in their gaps, maintain their responsibilities, and then they do their job. That's the thing that is the biggest deal. They played together a lot last year, many of them, and they believe in each other and help each other make plays. That's the key to a successful defense.
CN: Would you have been more concerned about the loss of a key player like Brown two or three years ago than you are now, given the quality in the depth chart that Coach John Skladany now has?
Bruns: Absolutely. That goes to recruiting. I've said it a couple of times on the radio this season. My opinion of our recruiting last season was that it was outstanding. To be able to do the recruiting we did in the face of the season we had, and get talented guys here like Tim Dobbins and LaMarcus Hicks, was outstanding. We got guys that could step in right away and play well. That speaks so much to the job that the coaching staff did after last year.
CN: What has been your impression of the play of this secondary?
Bruns: I think Steve Paris is playing at a much higher level than he has to this point, and that's been great. You want guys playing well as they start to get older and mature. Nik Moser is back in what I think is his natural spot at strong safety. He's got a nose for the ball, is a tough guy, plays hard, and loves playing the game. Then you look at Ellis, DeAndre Jackson, and the rest of the corners, and they are guys that enjoy playing together and love making plays. They're all confident in each other.
CN: The special teams have done a remarkable turnaround, especially in the last three weeks. We saw several punts blocked last year, and that has been cleaned up. The return game has improved. What is your impression of the special teams?
Bruns: From the first game to now there has been a tremendous improvement. It's a function of the ‘go to work, get the job done' attitude that this team has to clean up the mistakes that were being made early in the year. Coaches can only do so much and the players have got to go play.
You heard people grumbling early in the year that it was the coach's fault that he's not doing this and that. My opinion is that special teams is an area where you coach kids up, but then you've got to trust them to do what they need to do. We're doing a better job from an execution standpoint now. The schemes haven't changed, the things that we're trying to do, and the coaching points haven't changed. But our execution has improved.
The biggest thing you see on the punt unit is Landon Schrage getting the ball back there in a hurry. He has done a great job. Not enough people have heard about him and what he's done for that unit.
Bruns: My opinion as a prognosticator is that Nebraska is going to take a loss Saturday, and it will be real interesting to see what happens in the Kansas State-Colorado game. I've got to believe Kansas State is going to win that game, but you never know.
The biggest key for the Cyclones at this point is that K-State game. We'll see how Missouri finishes up, but they're a team that is a little bit divided and demoralized at this point. I don't have any problem at all inviting them to our place late in the year, when everybody wishes they were on vacation from school. I think that's a good situation for us. It will be a tough game, but it's a good opportunity.
But this K-State game – we have not been very successful down there. I was part of two of those, and it wasn't much fun at all. Not many of us played well when we were down there. But I don't think this is the same K-State team that we've been looking at in year's past, either. You've got to be able to stop their run game. They try to punish you and are not afraid to go for it on 4th-and-1. That opens up a lot of opportunities for them to keep the drive alive. You've got to stuff them in their run game to make sure they don't want to take the risk of going for it on fourth down.
It starts on defense, but our offense and special teams need to execute well. That's still a very good football team and they get better as the season goes on. It will be a great challenge. I still look at that game and say Iowa State winning that game would be an upset. That's the mentality you've got to go down to Manhattan with. We've been trying for a number of years to knock them off and get the monkey off our back, like we had with Iowa and Nebraska. Maybe this is the year.