Lincoln, Neb.-The Nebraska football team continued its preparation for Saturday’s Big Ten conference opener against Illinois on Wednesday afternoon. The team practiced in shoulder pads and shorts for just over two hours inside the Hawks Center and outside at the Ed and Joyanne Gass Practice Fields.
Defensive Coordinator John Papuchis met with media after practice, noting that as a whole, the defensive staff has had a few sleepless nights while preparing for Illinois dynamic offense.
“One of things they do a nice job of is they have a lot of diversity in their offense. They do pretty much anything you can do.” Papuchis said, “They have all the personnel packages, spread packages, it forces you to prepare for a lot of things and obviously that is the challenge this week.”
One of the reasons the Illini have such a dynamic offense is the play of their senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has recorded 1162 passing yards including 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Scheelhaase not only displays talent throwing the ball, he also is a tremendous dual-threat quarterback, racking up 1,826 rushing yards with 16 touchdowns in his career, making Papuchis and the rest of the defensive staff respect not only what he does in the air, but on the ground as well.
“We have a lot of respect for him as an athlete, so whether he runs it or not is out of our control in terms of what they call. We’ve got to be prepared for it.” Papuchis said.
Much has been said about the Nebraska Blackshirt defense over the past few weeks, but one thing that is certain is that during the bye week and so far this week, Papuchis believes that the Husker defense has came out and worked hard every day at practice. Papuchis did note that the coaches can’t fully measure how much progress has been made until they see the team in action Saturday.
“One thing about our guys is that they come to work every day, I thought our guys have worked hard over the past few weeks.” Papuchis said, “We will see the progress Saturday. I think we have made strides but until you really test it, sometimes it is a little bit difficult in how far you have come.”
A key thing the Nebraska defense has been working on has been communication on the defensive side of the ball. Papuchis believes that one of the biggest things the Husker defense struggled at while playing South Dakota State was not communicating enough on the defense.
“It was a lot communication issues, just getting our guys comfortable and making the calls and taking command.” Papuchis said, “One thing we have been blessed with while we have been here is a Mike linebacker that is willing to take charge. Whether it was Phil Dillard or Lavonte or Will Compton those guys took charge. That is what we need, a field general that is going to help people get lined up.”
Nebraska will hit the practice field again on Thursday as the team moves closer to its fifth game of the season. NU will face the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Check back here at Huskers.com for updates.