LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska will head to Rutgers this weekend as more than a touchdown favorite, coming off their biggest win of season. But, at 4-6 on the year, the Huskers shouldn’t look past anyone - even a team that has lost their last three games by an average of 36 points.
“We have to be consistency in the way we prepare,” said defensive tackle Kevin Maurice. “We look back at Minnesota week where we won, then the next we came out flat against Northwestern. I think it’s going to be very important for us to come out consistent so we can build off this win from Saturday.”
Nebraska’s defense continued to struggle in Saturday’s win against Michigan State. The Huskers allowed Connor Cook to throw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. They allowed a 100+ yard rusher. There was also the 38-points they gave up.
It wasn’t all bad. The defense came up with key moments in the contest to not only get off the field, but to give the offense a spark.
Early in the game, after being punched in the mouth by a long run, Nebraska stopped Sparty on fourth down. Corner Jonathan Rose picked off Cook, who isn’t one to make many mistakes. Late in the fourth quarter, the Blackshirts forced a three-and-out, to give their offense one last chance to score.
It was efforts like these and the last Michigan State offensive possession (only :17 long) that impressed defensive coordinator Mark Banker.
“In the first half, despite the two runs on that short side, with the exception of the last drive, we played pretty consistent,” Banker said. “We started out the game and we had a third-down stop, had a fourth-down stop [and] had two three-and-outs. It was our best fourth quarter that we’ve had from a standpoint of score. In the second-to-last series, we come up with a stop. Byerson Cockrell made a tremendous open-field tackle when they tried to run a reverse they had success on earlier in the game, [but we] stopped them there. It was the best tackling day we had, we only missed four tackles. There were a number of tackles made out on the perimeter by all the positions.
“[On the very last drive] we had a chance to go back on the field with time left in the game, the ball up toward the midfield and nobody blinked. We probably had the best four-man rush on those two plays that we had in the whole game. Freedom [Akinmoladun] hit him both times, on the very last play, he almost lost the ball, Jack [Gangwish] got his hand on him. We had great coverage on that very, very last one and we were able to win the game. I thought the players really stuck to it, came out in the first quarter and started the game pretty well and finished the game well.”
Banker acknowledged that his defense still struggled at times against the Spartans’ offense, but he was proud of their resiliency.
“The disappointing thing was not being able to get off the field on the very, very last series [in the first half],” Banker said. “It kind of left a sour taste in your mouth going into the locker room. [In the] third quarter, we could not get off the field. They converted every third down in that third quarter, but I thought they stayed with it, they fought hard.”
Attention now turns to Rutgers, who has managed to only score 12 points per game in the last three contests. Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo could be back in action against Nebraska. In five games this season, the senior has 527 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
“We don’t have a lot of film on him, therefore we don’t know exactly how or where he’ll line up or how he’ll be utilized,” Banker said. “We do know this – that he’s only played 15 quarters this year, and he has nine touchdowns and by NFL standards, a lot of the scouts are talking about him possibly being the first wide receiver to possibly go. So we know he has speed, he’s got good size and you can see him catching the ball and running around, running his routes. ”