Husker Notes: Turnovers Resulting From Practice
Nebraska defensive players have been heeding the advice of their coaches and are zoning in on turnover drills in practice.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander sees a direct correlation between that, and the fact Nebraska has forced three turnovers in consecutive games for the first time since 2014.
“They’re taking those drills seriously,” Chinander said after Tuesday’s practice. “You watch the film on those turnover drills at the beginning of the year, it looks like the Bad News Bears out there.
“Now, it looks like a real football team. It looks like guys are trying to get to the football. You can see they’re more ball aware in team settings, they’re more ball aware in individual settings.”
Nebraska had forced a mere seven turnovers through its first seven games before forcing three turnovers against FCS foe Bethune-Cookman. Even with the competition ratcheted up several notches, the Blackshirts created three more turnovers Saturday at No. 8 Ohio State, putting the Huskers in position for an upset.
“They’re understanding that being in position is not good enough,” Chinander said. “Anybody can be in position. If you want to be great, you’ve got to go get the football.”
Sophomore linebacker JoJo Domann sacked Dwayne Haskins and forced a fumble that defensive tackle Carlos Davis recovered at the Nebraska 36-yard line in the second quarter, when the Buckeyes led 16-7 and were driving.
On Ohio State’s next series, senior linebacker Luke Gifford stripped receiver K.J. Hill after a 30-yard reception. Gifford also recovered the football, at the Ohio State 47-yard line, just as coaches have been preaching in practice.
“Coach is always pushing us to do a little bit more,” junior cornerback Lamar Jackson said. “Getting the ball on the ground ain’t enough. We need the ball out, and we need to recover the ball.”
Jackson then thwarted an Ohio State drive to begin the third quarter when he intercepted Haskins in the end zone for the Blackshirts’ third straight turnover.
“There’s no magic potion. It’s just the process,” Chinander said. “We keep talking about it, we keep coaching it, we keep coaching it on film, we keep coaching drills, we keep coaching harder and harder.”
And players are finally responding.
“If you’re taking that seriously, you should be getting better at it,” defensive end Ben Stille said. “It’s just effort. Guys getting to the ball, and then when the ball comes out, being there to get it.”
Chinander said he’s noticed players talking more on the sideline, in between series, whereas it was “crickets” in that respect earlier in the season.
“I feel hungry. I feel good energy. But I also feel like we’ve got a long ways to go,” Chinander said. “That was a good football team. We played better. But we can’t give up that many points. We can make the mistakes that we did that led to some of those big runs.”
Redshirted freshman tight end Austin Allen knew the tight end would likely be open on the passing play that gained 41 yards at Ohio State.
Allen just didn’t know he’d be that tight end.
Nebraska had worked all week long on the misdirection play, of sorts, where running back Devine Ozigbo draws in a linebacker who’s thinking he’s defending a bubble screen play, with quarterback Adrian Martinez then lofting a pass down the near sideline to a streaking tight end.
Only, Kurt Rafdal, another redshirted freshman tight end, had been the primary target in practice. It just happened that Allen’s turn in the rotation was up when coaches decided on the play.
“I told myself right when I got on the line, ‘Oh, Kurt’s gonna be pissed,’ ” said Allen, a native of Aurora.
It worked out, regardless.
“It felt like that thing floated in the air for a year,” the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Allen said. “I kind of felt there was going to be somebody closing in pretty fast, but I caught the ball and kind of took a peek around, and there was nobody.
“That was the exactly look we’d gotten all week in practice. Scout team gave us a great look.”
With two redshirted freshmen and sophomore Jack Stoll, tight end has been one of the youngest positions for Nebraska, but one that’s growing and improving, as they’re seeing more targets in recent games.
“They’re expanding it out, which is really nice,” Allen said. “When coach calls our number, we should make a play, and that’s what we’ve been doing."
Allen said his overall understanding of the intent of plays, and not just his responsibility, has been his biggest improvement.
“Beginning of the season it was more, ‘Oh, I know what I’ve got to do on this play,’ but now it’s, ‘I know what I’ve got to do on this play, and I know where the back’s probably going to hit, and where I should probably run to,' " Allen said. "I guess more overall understanding of the play concepts.”
Illinois quarterback A.J. Bush is returning to the stadium where he began his collegiate career. Bush was a member of Nebraska’s team in 2014 and 2015 before transferring to Iowa Western in 2016, Virginia Tech in 2017 and now Illinois as a fifth-year graduate transfer.
Bush arrived at Illinois on Aug. 3, and his teammates voted him a captain. He earned the starting job before the season opener and has played in all but two games, South Florida and Penn State, when he was injured.
Bush is coming off a career game against Minnesota. He had 343 yards of total offense and four touchdowns – two passing, two rushing. For the season, he’s completing 56.8 percent of his passes, with five touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s rushed 85 times for 472 yards, or 5.6 per carry.
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