Nebraska's defensive line thus far this year has been somewhat a glimpse of the past. A constant push up the middle, forcing the offensive lines into double-teams, freeing up the Rush Ends to take advantage of one-on-one situations. Seems simple enough, but such hasn't been the case for NU for the last few years. There were some great individual efforts by recent players, but as a whole, this defensive unit is bringing back a little more luster to the blackshirts.
As a not-so-new, but new to the field, member of the NU D-line, LeKevin Smith is enjoying his time in the sun. A constant rotation on the line that has shuttled virtually everyone in off the two-deep, has given players like Smith quality minutes to prove just what they can do. It's also done something for more valuable in that it has established NU as not just one of the better interior lines you will see around the country, but possibly one of the deepest as well. For Smith, this rotation is welcome as he tries to get hist first real year of playing time off to a great start. "This being my first real year of playing college ball, it's nice to get this kind of playing time." Smith stated.
LeKevin hasn't been battling just others for time however as he has been battling the injury bug as well. Last year, Smith sat out with a knee injury which makes this season for him that much more exciting and even though he's aware of how things happen, LeKevin said that being too cautious won't be a problem for him. "You always have to be aware of them (injuries), but I don't concentrate on them at all." LeKevin said. "I just go out there and play."
This season, the Husker faithful have seen or at least taken notice of a defensive line that is constantly changing. Because of that, each has their time to shine, but also has a chance to evaluate (in their own mind) just how good this defense is and can be. Smith pointed that not even some of his own teammates were quite certain how good this team could be and to this day, still may not know. "I see this defense being better than some thought that are on the defense and I see this defense being better than it is now."
As I have listened to one question after another posed to one player after another, a common theme keeps re-occurring; Miami and Colorado last year. Players shrug, they roll their eyes and suck back the frustration as for the millionth time, they try to answer a question that won't die. "What is different about this defense that says what happened against CU and Miami won't happen again?" You can spin that into a few variations, but you get the idea. Are those two games motivation, are they a learning experience or are they a bur under the saddle that annoys more than it helps? Chris Kelsay chimed in with his own opinion that you could easily say is shared by everyone else. "Personally, I am tired of talking about Colorado and Miami." Kelsay stated. "It's a new season." As to the motivation of last year and the promise of what this year's line has proven thus far, LeKevin stated simply, "It gets us all a little pumped."
Penn State offers a new set of challenges for the Husker D. Bigger on the offensive line, stronger across the board and of course, it's a big name program with probably the biggest name in coaching right now, Joe Paterno leading them on. Add a stadium of 107,000 people and you got yourself an epic in the making. An epic that can humble some, intimidate others, but in some cases, motivate players into giving everything they got. "It's a big game atmosphere." Smith stated. "In front of 107 thousand people, against a great coaching trying to get another win and it's against a big, tough offensive line. I am looking forward to it, because it will be the first real challenge we have had this year."
"That gets me more pumped up than anything. Any opponent you line up against is a good opponent, but now, we are playing Penn State, they are known and have a good line, so if we come out and do our thing against Penn State, maybe people will know that we aren't what they thought and will give us the respect that we deserve."
Anyway you cut it, this line is worlds beyond where they existed not even a year ago. A consistent push up the middle, Rush Ends making a difference and a secondary that enjoys the fruits of their line's success. Also, the constant flow of one player off the bench after another that simply makes plays, hopes are high and getting higher in the capital city. This defense doesn't want glory though. They don't want accolades by the media across the country. Yeah, it would be nice, but there is one sight clear in the minds of all these defensive-minded Husekrs, despite what the so-called experts say. They want to be the unit that exemplifies the oft-heard motto, Defense wins championships. "That's why we play." Smith stated. "That's what it's all about."