Coach Bo Pelini Needs to Rethink Nebraska's Defensive Scheme

Tim KeefCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2012

It has been a defensive nightmare for the Huskers in 2012
It has been a defensive nightmare for the Huskers in 2012Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Bo Pelini is supposed to be a defensive mastermind.  What then, in Bob Devaney's name, is going on with the storied "blackshirts"?

To be fair, Pelini has a tough job—and doing that job while fixed beneath one of the largest microscopes in college football is even tougher.

But isn't defense supposed to be his forte?  Isn't he the Norm Chow of defense?  Shouldn't every Nebraska opponent see the blackshirts coming and automatically lose a yard on every play?

This is hardly an article intending to sucker punch Pelini; I truly feel he is the right coach for this team. But how long will fans be able to put up with these regularly occurring atrocities? Here's the laundry list:

  • The complete inability to stop any mobile quarterback that runs a sub 5.2 40.
  • Defenders falling on their backsides because of lack of proper positioning and being fooled by "sweet" moves.
  • No pressure on the quarterback.
  • Arm tackles.  Missed tackles.  Non-tackles.
  • Interceptions.  Wait, I forget.  What's an interception? 

In my opinion, Pelini's stubborn reliance on the 4-3 two gap defense is part of the problem.  His defenders have to think too much about.  For college kids, sometimes playing the game naturally is the best way.

In fact, on the flip side, only one team in the NFL, a league with far more complex defensive schemes, incorporates the two gap scheme: the Jacksonville Jaguars.  


Pelini needs to look at everything that has gone wrong with this defensive unit and rethink his scheme.  

Every year, he brings in talented defensive linemen and linebackers, but aside from the man-child Lavonte David, there are few players on the team that can fully grasp the two gap system and flourish in this system.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the 4-3 two gap defense, the scheme involves defensive linemen concerning themselves with two gaps in the offensive line. They are responsible for not only reading the play as it comes, but knowing what everyone else on their side of the ball is doing as well.  Compare that with the one gap scheme, where defensive linemen are able to line up against their counterpart and worry solely about how they are going to get past him and make tackles.  

One gap schemes aren't thinking-man defenses. But they allow players to take their mind out of the equation and focus on their physical skills.  For a college athlete who is still growing as a football player this would seem to be optimal.

Take the UCLA game.

The Bruins launched the perfect offensive scheme for a defense that thinks too much.  The blackshirts had their positions ironed out and their coverages in place.  Then...HOLY SMOKES...a man went in motion.  And just as the safeties and corners and linebackers had all finished pointing at the player and set their new coverage, the ball was snapped.

You could almost see the thought bubbles exploding over helmets.

This happened on nearly every single snap.

Too much thinking.  Too little reliance on natural ability.

Obviously Pelini is a great defensive mind.   This scheme has worked for him in nearly every stop he's  made in his coaching career.  But just as offenses have had to adapt, so too must Pelini's defensive mentality.

If someone would have told you before the season started that Nebraska would lose to UCLA, you might have given it a thought.  If that same person told you that the Huskers would rack up 30 points in that loss without Rex Burkhead and with Taylor Martinez reverting back to their old ways, would you believe it?

Would you also believe that the vaunted blackshirts would give up more than 600 yards of total offense to a UCLA team led by a Freshman quarterback?

Didn't think so.  Come on, Bo.  Something needs to change.