Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis is encouraged by the increased athleticism and depth of the Cornhuskers' defense this fall. But he clearly does not want this optimism to translate into elevated expectations for his Blackshirts in 2013.
His post-practice comments to the media appeared hesitant and calculated as he tiptoed the line between encouragement and hype.
Yet he did so for good reason.
Entering this fall, Papuchis can take comfort in the rock-bottom expectations for his defensive unit.
Despite finishing a surprising 35th in the nation in total defense in 2012, Papuchis' crew is better remembered for its horrific performances against UCLA and Ohio State, and against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Even though it was complemented by the Big Ten's top offense, the defense's shortcomings were so profound that Nebraska lost four games last year in which it scored at least 30 points.
Thanks to low turnover from that 2012 offense, the Huskers look poised to post similar numbers this fall. So although Nebraska football fans yearn for a return to the prolific Blackshirt units typical of the Tom Osborne era and the beginning of head coach Bo Pelini's tenure, that level of dominance is not required by the potent Huskers offense.
That is why Papuchis is weary of raising expectations any higher than necessary this fall.
Nebraska's defense in big games last season was embarrassingly ineffective. It did not have to be good, just good enough. But still, the defense could not do it.
After replacing almost the entire defensive starting lineup, Papuchis' defense will again have the same simple goal in 2013: adequacy.
So why raise expectations any higher for the Blackshirts? After all, the only thing the Big Red needs on defense is mediocrity.
If the Huskers hold every opponent this season under 30—or even 35—points, Nebraska stands a great chance of capturing its elusive conference championship and realizing its BCS goals.
When the bar is set so low, there is no reason for Papuchis to encourage higher expectations for his young defense. After the last two seasons of blowout losses, Papuchis is wise to approach this fall with cautious optimism and gladly accept the comically low expectations for this Nebraska defense.
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