The Nebraska Defense Preview

Come inside as Big Red Report Publisher Josh Harvey helps BadgerNation breakdown the defensive side of the football for Nebraska.

Defensive Line

Nebraska only allowed Wisconsin to rush for 56 yards in their first matchup. It could be the biggest key again on defense this weekend for the Huskers.

"Sometimes rushing statistics are a little out of whack because of sacks and tackles for loss, but I thought we did a pretty good job against the run last time," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said on Tuesday. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for what they do in the running game. Obviously, it starts with Montee Ball and we know what he's all about, but he's not the only good back on their team. We've got to be prepared to stop the run on Saturday."

But stopping it won't be easy with All-Big Ten defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler missing the game with a knee injury. It's the hope that younger tackles like Chase Rome and Thad Randle step up in his absence.

"Obviously, not having Baker is disappointing for him and for us, but we feel very good about the guys we have on our team up front," Papuchis said. "It's not necessarily going to be one guy who steps in and solely fills the role for Baker. I think it's going to be more of a group effort and that's why we practice the way we practice. All of our guys get a lot of reps, and when their opportunities come they need to be ready. For some guys those opportunities are going to show up more on Saturday."

At defensive end, Nebraska is led by pass rushing specialist Eric Martin, who registered 8.5 sacks in the regular season while seeing his total tackle numbers climb from 23 in 2011 to 51 in 2012.

"I think he's really had a good year. He's an impactful guy," said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. "He's hard to block on the edge. He's a guy you have to account for and know where he is. He's not your prototype defensive end size wise, but he's a powerful guy, he's quick, he's explosive and he plays with tremendous energy. He's a good player and he's had a great year for us."

Linebacker

At linebacker, senior Will Compton is the heart and soul of the defense, registering 98 tackles during the regular season, including 10 in the last matchup with the Badgers.

But maybe the most important player on defense for the Huskers will be senior Alonzo Whaley, who has come along late in the season. If Whaley (59 tackles in 2012) can help shutdown the run, it could be a long day for the Wisconsin offense.

"I think he's increased his knowledge of what we are doing and he's prepared better. He's just gotten better as the year has gone on," said Pelini. "He's become a leader on our football team. He's come a long way. That young man has matured off the field, first and foremost. He's really grown. He's grown as a leader on our football team and for our program. I give him a lot of credit."

Secondary

Despite being the nation's No. 1 team in passing defense, the Huskers only had one player selected from their secondary on Monday night when the All-Big Ten teams were announced.

Safety Daimion Stafford, who has four interceptions in the last five games, was voted by the media to the first-team, while the coaches selected him for the second-team.

Probably missing from the list was cornerback Ciante Evans. Nebraska's No. 1 corner, Pelini has an idea why his shutdown defender wasn't selected.

"He doesn't get a lot of the publicity," said Pelini. "Ciante Evans doesn't get heralded the way he should...Whether he gets picked to be All-Big Ten or not, if you watch the film, there is probably not a better defensive back in the league.

"I think he's played at an extremely high level. He's competed, he's played with detail, I think he's played extremely well. He's aggressive, he competes, he challenges receivers. He put the work in the offseason and it's paid off for him."

Nebraska is giving up just 152.2 yards per game through the air and are allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw only 45 percent.

"We have high standards in how we play. I think we can be better," said Pelini. "I think we could've done a lot of things better. One of the things we've done in all the defenses I've coached is we've been up there in pass defense. I get criticized a lot for how we play defense and our style, but I believe in it and how it works. Like I said, we do what we do. That's how we play. It's worked for us. It's not for everybody, but that's our style."

Special Teams

After being selected as the Big Ten's top kicker in 2011, senior Brett Maher's season started off rocky. The former walk-on started just 4-of-8, also struggling in the punt game.

But Maher was brilliant in conference play, missing just two field goals and being selected as the All-Big Ten Co-Kicker of the Year on Monday. He finished the regular season 18-of-24, with his long coming from 54 yards. He also averaged 41.7 yards a punt, kicking 16 inside the 20 during the year.

In the return game, Nebraska has had it's struggles this year, but have a home run threat in Ameer Abdullah returning on Saturday. The sophomore has seen his attempts at times this year take a back seat when he was filling for starting running back Rex Burkhead.

In the Huskers last six games, they only have 12 punt returns for just 23 yards. Expect a similar plan on Saturday. The thought process is, when the offense is good, why take chances?


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