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A return to "NASTY". The "Blackshirts" reborn

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You want to know the biggest difference between last year's defense and this one that is amongst the very best in all the country? It's almost elementary. The difference between how this year's defense operates versus last year is the difference between, 2+2-6+4-5+6+7=10 and 5+5=10. Taking the complexity out of the side of the ball where being complex is almost contradictory to the very reason defenses are successful in the first place.

Also, if I knew the right keystroke, I would add a little 10 on the side of the sum to the far right, if only to illustrate not just the simplicity, but the tenth power representing the effort gained from letting players play instead of thinking about nuances on a side of the ball where nuances are ultimately self-defeating.

Yes, this defense has came a long ways in a very short time, the statistical difference from a year ago almost staggering. While the season has yet to be completed, you don't need to analyze the rest of the year to try and find a fair comparison to what the NU defense did all of last year. The disparity is such, heck, it doesn't even matter. Night and Day, wet and dry, to or fro, so incredible are the differences, comparisons don't even apply, but for the sake of giving you a slight perspective, we will anyway and keep in mind when looking at the difference, less is better.

Nebraska '02

Category

Nebraska '03

Difference

23.9

Opp. pts. per game

13.0

-10.9

361.9

Opp. yds. per game

255.6

-106.3

3.7

Opp. yds. per rush

3.1

-.6

6.6

Opp. yds. per pass

5.0

-1.6

215.3

Opp. yds. pass. per game

154.1

-61.2

146.6

Opp. yds. rush per game

101.4

-45.2

5.0

Opp. yards per play

4.0

-1.0

37%

Opp. 3rd dwn. cnvers. %

30%

-7%

44%

Opp. 4th dwn. cnvers. %

33%

-11%

13 (14 games)

Total Interceptions

16 (7 games)

+3 (+1.37 per gm)

8 (14 games)

Total Opp. fumbles lost

13 (7 games)

+5 (+1.29 per gm)

1 (14 games)

Total TDs scored on "D"

3 (7 games)

+2 (+.36 per gm)

Any questions?

How about some more? This year, Demorrio Williams leads the team in sacks with 6 1/2 and all of last year he had 1. Barrett Ruud is already a half a sack higher than his total from last year as well.

Ok, so we've seen the results, but some might just look at this complete reversal of performance and speculate as to how any one or group of coaches can make that much difference. Well, I think it's obvious that they can.

For a second, let's just forget that Jimmy Williams played over double-digit years in the pros. And, let's put aside Marvin Sanders turning down a job with the St. Louis Rams to return to Lincoln to coach the secondary. Finally, let's chuck the entire NFL resume' of one, Bo Pelini. What you have left then isn't the credentials, but the attitude and that's the biggest difference between this year's team and last.

Sure, technique is different, schemes are simplified and people with some impressive backgrounds usually make great impacts from their experiences, but if you ask Bo Pelini, this arrival wasn't the arrival of a system, rather a mind-set in how you approach the game. That approach being "full out, four quarters".

Relentless, intense and complete effort every single play of the game. That's what Pelini preached to his unit when he got here. Effort first, everything else second and when he was satisfied that the idea was imprinted, that's when players were given the tools to play formations, schemes and systems.

While Craig Bohl might have been lauded last year during practice for his ability to recall schemes and defensive plays down to the myriad gaps, assignments and formations that made up his ultra-complex methodology, Pelini would probably be remembered more for the F-bombs he drops from time to time because someone wasn't close to hyperventilating due to the effort after each and every play.

One thinks, one does and that's really the main reason for what's going on with the blackshirts.

No longer are players hamstrung by a variety of responsibilities. Now, they have one. Get to the ball. No longer are players thinking ad-nauseam about gaps, slots and assignments. Now, it's get to the ball. And, while last year, the defense seemed to be on it's heels, folding like a wet blanket at times when they got down, now, it's "pick your ass up" and oh yeah, get to the damn ball.

That's the reason for the turnovers. That's the reason for the short-fields the offense often has and that's the reason people are smiling now when even a fake grin was hard to come by in recent years at NU.

Of course, nobody on the defensive staff will admit to having accomplished anything. As far as Pelini is concerned, "We are no where near to the finished product" is the quote you will hear every time someone asks how pleased he is with this group. "It's a process", "We're making progress" or "We've got a long ways to go" add to the long list of what are now cliches for college football's most valuable assistant.

The irony here is that the appreciation everyone has shown for the "simplified" defense has more than overshadowed just how smart this guy is. Except for that hiccup in the fourth quarter against Missouri which was actually an entire team collapse, Pelini has shown brilliance in being able to adjust to some very complex schemes and some players that are awfully hard to scheme against.

While Utah State didn't have the players, they had an offensive system about as complex as you can get. Shifts, motions, players just moving all over the place, I thought I was watching a game out of arena football. Pelini adjusted, putting Demorrio on the line, Williams getting 3 sacks and a forced fumble, all in about five minutes. Thus the end of the Aggies.

Against Oklahoma State, a team that has one of the best trios on offense around the entire country, you might assume that you have to pick who hurts you because you simply can't stop them all. Well, Bell didn't get a hundred yards on the ground, Josh Fields didn't even get 100 yards in the air and Mr. Everything, Heisman-hopeful, Rashaun Woods, well, he didn't even get 50 yards worth of catches.

And, most recently against the gifted but young, Reggie McNeal, McNeal might have nightmares about that game until he's old and grey. 5 turnovers from the Aggie standout, 3 in the air and 2 he put on the ground, Texas A and M went from moving the ball very well in the first half to being all but stifled in the second.

You would have to give the Aggies credit though, because they did something against this Pelini defense that hasn't all year. They scored in the 3rd quarter. Yeah, well, it was only a field goal, but still, the season-long futility for teams right after the second half, it was ended, even if it was futile in the end.

How about that though? Last year, I am sure you were actually getting used to Nebraska's defense getting run down like deer on I-80 as they gave up one scoring drive after another when the start of the second half ensued. The infamous half-time adjustments that NU used to make pre-Bohl were a matter of waxing nostalgic, but it would seem NU is back to their old (and good) ways.

It's a return in some many ways, really. A year like last season can make you forget so many of the things NU did right at one point, but Bo Pelini, Marvin Sanders, Jimmy Williams and Jeff Jamrog have helped to remind NU fans just what that was like.

It's a return to flying around the field. It's a return to intimidating offenses rather than just trying to slow them down. It's a return to wide-eyed quarterbacks, running-backs who can't find holes and offensive coordinators that cringe when they see "Nebraska" as their up-coming game.

Yep, it's a return to being the Nebraska people remember that sparks thoughts of names like Peter, Wistrom, Tomich, Brown and well, Brown. A return to dominance? Yeah, but more than anything, it's Nebraska's return to "NASTY!"

Steve Ryan can be reached at huskerconnection@neb.rr.com or 402-730-5619


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