Nebraska Football: Why Bo Pelini Is Absolutely Right to Focus on D This Spring

Patrick RungeCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2013

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini talk to cornerback Andrew Green #11 and safety Austin Cassidy #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game against the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Michigan State 24-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Nebraska football fans know good defense. They love good defense. They have seen trophies brought back to Lincoln based on good defense.  So they know when Nebraska doesn’t have a good defense.

Nebraska didn’t have a good defense in 2012. And the Children of the Corn are waiting for head coach Bo Pelini – regarded as a defensive wizard – to work his magic and conjure up the Blackshirts of old.

So why will the defense be such a focus for Pelini this spring?

(All statistics for this analysis are from cfbstats.com)

 

It's Why Pelini Was Brought To Lincoln

Here are some numbers that will always be sobering to Nebraska fans.

  • No. 112 in total defense
  • No. 84 in passing defense
  • No. 116 in rushing defense
  • No. 114 in scoring defense
  • Surrendering 70 or more points in a game
  • Surrendering 63 or more points twice in a season

There were a number of things that led to the firing of Bill Callahan after the end of the 2007 season. But one of the major reasons was the total collapse of Nebraska's vaunted Blackshirt defense. Nebraska's 76-39 loss to Kansas, in which NU gave up 572 total yards, can fairly be viewed as the final nail in the coffin of Callahan's tenure in Lincoln. Remember, the Nebraska-Kansas series had been historically one-sided in NU's favor. In 2007, after the Jayhawks' dismantling of Nebraska for the second straight time in Lawrence, the feat wasn't even worth rushing the field for the Jayhawk faithful.

Sure, some of that had to do with a historically successful Kansas football team. But much of it had to do with the complete implosion of Nebraska's defense in 2007. When Pelini was hired as Nebraska's head coach, he was hired because of his defensive prowess to bring the Blackshirts back to glory.

 

The Defense Hasn't Been Very Good For A While

Here are some more numbers that should be sobering for Nebraska fans.

  • No. 92 nationally in rushing defense
  • No. 58 nationally in scoring defense
  • Surrendering 70 or more points in a game
  • Surrendering 63 or more points twice in a season

Those are Nebraska's numbers last year in its four losses. Disturbingly Callahan-esque, aren't they? While Nebraska's offense under Tim Beck has blossomed in the last two years, NU's defense has backslid to a point where the Blackshirts can surrender 63 points in a game – and have that not be the worst performance of the year. In Nebraska’s four losses, NU surrendered an average – an average, mind you – of 595 yards per game.

Sure, there might be some mitigating factors, including a talent gap coming from poor recruiting in years past and the breaking in of a new defensive coordinator. But make no mistake, Nebraska's success in 2013 hinges on Pelini's ability to rediscover his magic and re-fix NU's defense.

 

The Defense Will Be Incredibly Young And Inexperienced

Jason Ankrah. David Santos. Zaire Anderson, for one game. Andrew Green. Ciante Evans. If you're looking for Nebraska's returning starters on defense, that's it, that's the list.

Now, the optimists amongst us could look at that list as a positive. Look at Nebraska's defensive numbers from last year. Most of the players, at least the starters, from that defense are gone. Replacing them will be younger players, many of them faster and more athletic. If nothing else, plugging new players into the defense will help give the Blackshirts a fresh start and turn the page from a disastrous 2012.

But the pessimists among us will point out that such a turnover means that Nebraska will have precious little in-game experience on the field next season. And given how complex Pelini's defenses can be, and how important communication and knowing where teammates will be is for Pelini's schemes, that inexperience is a huge concern for Nebraska's defensive success in 2013.

Spring practice is going to come and go quickly. Fall practice will do the same. Pelini has a lot of teaching and a lot of training to do if he wants this very green defense to perform and put the Blackshirts' ghosts of 2012 to rest.

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