LINCOLN, Neb. - Illinois through four games has averaged 38 passing attempts a contest, meaning No. 21 Nebraska’s secondary will be challenged this Saturday when the two square off on BTN starting at 8 p.m.
“They are as multiple of an offense as you can be, I think they have every personnel grouping that you can have,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said “The big sets, spread four-wide sets, and they run a lot of empty. They force you to prepare for a lot of different things.”
Because the Huskers will likely see the ball through the air a lot on Saturday night, expect to once again see a heavy dose of true freshman Josh Kalu, who’s been an asset for Nebraska in their DIME look.
“First of all he is a very good football player, athletically gifted, beyond that he is mature and smart,” Papuchis said. “He is a football smart kid, I think when he leaves this facility he spends a lot of time with his playbook because when he makes a mistake he corrects it the next time.”
Through four games, Nebraska’s defensive unit has room for improvement, ranking anywhere from No. 25 to 40 in the four major statistical categories. Papuchis was asked on Tuesday what he’s been most happy with so far this season.
“I would say as much as anything is our maturity, in terms of when things have happened during the games that haven’t been good for us, we have responded relatively well,” Papuchis said. “That was probably one of the things that bothered me the most in the last couple years, things started to snowball on us.”
To listen to his audio:
Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt is a transfer from Oklahoma State and been very good for the Fighting Illini through four games, completing over 65 percent of his throws and finding the end zone 11 times through the air. His competition is about to take a big step forward, although he was effective in a loss against Washington.
“He’s a very good player and is a pocket passer,” said Nebraska senior safety Corey Cooper. “He’s not going to give us much outside the pocket, but he’s good at what he does and reads defense. We are going to have to play sound in the backend; otherwise he’s going to exploit us.
“Our communication is going to have to be on point this week. Those guys do a lot of different things and that’s why we are practicing.”
Lunt isn’t considered a dual-threat, but Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini says any Division 1 athlete can hurt a team if they aren’t prepared for it.
“Like any major college athlete, he can do anything if you have discipline in your rush lanes,” said Pelini. “He has some talent. He has really good arm talent. I think they do a really good job in the passing game.”
Much similar to Lunt taking off, Nebraska has to be ready for an Illinois’ rushing attack, which has been very sneaky when given a chance.
“It gets difficult when you face a team that’s throwing, throwing, throwing and then they creep up with a draw or some kind of run play, but that’s why as a defensive lineman you have to have your antennas up,” said Nebraska defensive end Greg McMullen. “We have to be on alert at all times. We have to be ready for them to run it as well. We have to have some football awareness.”
Harvey’s practice donuts:
* Nebraska outside linebacker David Santos did not practice on Tuesday and wore a big brace on his right knee. In the base defense, don’t be surprised to see senior Trevor Roach and sophomore Josh Banderas playing together on the field, something hinted by head coach Bo Pelini on Tuesday and confirmed by Papuchis on Tuesday. We will know more about Santos’ status on Thursdays when Pelini speaks to reporters.
* Nebraska receiver Brandon Reilly did not practice again on Tuesday.
* After starting the season on the mend, Nebraska right guard Zach Sterup played his best game of the season against Miami. “I was having a lot of fun,” said Sterup. “The whole offensive line enjoyed it. We ran the ball so much. We got to play in front of a crazy crowd and was having fun. I think that has a lot to do with it.” Sterup says he’s still not completely returned from the knee injury and is working his way back to his old-self.
* Defensive end Randy Gregory was named the LOTT IMPACT Player of the Week for his efforts against Miami over the weekend. The Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation will make a donation of $1,000 to the general scholarship fund at Nebraska to recognize Gregory's performance.
* Multiple players were asked if teams are trying to get in Gregory’s head this year, including defensive tackle Vincent Valentine. The sophomore defensive tackle says he feels Gregory has done a nice job of keeping level-headed. Papuchis said the Huskers must do a good job of keeping their composure at all times.
* The shoes Nebraska will wear with their alternate jerseys on Saturday feature a little orange and pink in them color wise. While I’m a fan of the jersey, the shoes could go.