UCLA Football: Previewing the Nebraska Cornhuskers - Part 2 - Defense and Special Teams

LINCOLN NE - OCTOBER 16: A dejected Nebraska Cornhusker fan shows his displeasure during second half action of the game between the Nebraska Cornhusker and the Texas Longhorns at Memorial Stadium on October 16 2010 in Lincoln Nebraska. Texas Defeated Nebraska 20-13. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

In Part I of the Nebraska preview, we partially discussed how John Papuchis is taking over as defensive coordinator for departed Carl Pelini. Papuchis has been with Head Coach Bo Pelini for years, spending the previous four years in Lincoln on Pelini's staff and having previously worked with Coach Pelini while at LSU. Accordingly, we don't expect Nebraska's defense to be any different than it normally is.

What is a typical Bo Pelini defense? There is a fantastic article by Brophy on brophyfootball.blogspot.com for you football nuts. Here's the short and sweet version:

At the core of it, Bo Pelini has a made a name for creating fundamentally sound defenses that play fast, year in and year out. Among the signatures of these defenses is a dominating front 7. The fundamental concept behind this defense is his use of the Under / Over defense. This is a 7 man front, complimented by 8-man (front) principles (of bringing a safety down in support).

That sounds really nice, but what does it mean? Nebraska was 112th in total defense in 2007, the year before Bo Pelini took over. In 2008, they rose to 55th. In 2009 they rose to 7th in total defense. In 2010, they were 11th. They did fall back to 37th last year, but you can see that Pelini's defense works. That said, Nebraska is replacing a lot of talent this year, and it's probably a good thing that UCLA is getting the Cornhuskers early in the season. This looks like a defense that will get better as the season goes along.

We'll take a closer look at the defense and special teams after the jump.


Defensive Line

After years with Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick, Nebraska's defensive line struggled a bit last year. They should be expected to be much better this year. Leading the charge inside is Sr. Baker Steinkuhler (6'6 290 lbs.), who seems like he has been a Cornhusker for a decade. In case you're wondering, he is Dean Steinkuhler's son. He had a monster game against Southern Mississippi with 8 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks.

So. Chase Rome (6'3 285 lbs.) and Jr. Thad Randle (6'1 295 lbs.) will line up next to Steinkuhler inside. They were both part of the defensive line rotation last year, but Randle missed a few games due to a knee injury.

At ends, Nebraska starts Jr. Jason Ankrah (6'4 265 lbs.) and Sr. Cameron Meredith (6'4 260 lbs.). They both started most of last season. While Meredith was more productive with 5 sacks, Ankrah was a much more highly touted prospect coming out of high school and has better physical gifts. Behind them, experienced seniors Joseph Carter (6'5 265 lbs.) and Eric Martin (6'2 250 lbs.) will see action.

Linebackers

Nebraska lost talented Lavonte David, but return Sr. Will Compton (6'2 230 lbs.). Compton was second to David last year with 82 tackles and provides good leadership from his MLB spot.

Outside, Nebraska starts seniors Sean Fisher (6'6 230 lbs.) and Alonzo Whaley (6'1 230 lbs.). Fisher was a spot starter last year, while Whaley has played sparingly throughout his entire career. Whaley made 6 tackles against Southern Mississippi, but Fisher failed to record a tackle.

The primary backups are listed as RFr. Max Pirman (6'5 220 lbs.), RFr David Santos (6'0 220 lbs.), and So. Trevor Roach (6'2 230 lbs.), but watch out for Jr. Zaire Anderson (5'11 220 lbs.). Anderson is a JC transfer originally from Pennsylvania who played JC ball at Riverside CC. Anderson is currently listed behind Santos as the 3rd string weakside linebacker, but I suspect he'll climb the charts and play this year.

Secondary

Nebraska loses Alfonzo Dennard, but Jr. Andrew Green (6'0 195 lbs.) is poised to take the alpha corner role for the Cornhuskers. He made 48 tackles, made 1 interception, and deflected 8 passes, which bested Dennard in all categories. Besides Green, Nebraska's secondary is fairly deep.

At the other corner spot, So. Josh Mitchell (5'11 155 lbs.) or Jr. Stanley Jean-Babtiste (6'3 215 lbs.) will get the start, but both will play extensively against UCLA. Jr. Ciante Evans (5'11 185 lbs.) will also get time. Mitchell's lack of size may make him a tough matchup against UCLA's bigger receivers inside. Jean-Babtiste, on the other hand, has size to spare and is built more like an undersized linebacker.

Nebraska has another touted JC transfer, Jr. Mohammad Seisay (6'2 200 lbs.) who has been suffering through injury problems most of fall camp. Seisay was sought after by a lot of major programs, and he's expected to be a good corner going forward for the Huskers.

At the safety spots, Sr. Daimion Stafford (6'1 205 lbs.) and Sr. P.J. Smith (6'2 210 lbs.) will get the start. Stafford is a JC transfer that has excelled in Lincoln, and Smith has been a spot starter and reserve throughout his career. They're both big, capable corners that can cover and support the run.

Special Teams

Nebraska uses Sr. Brett Maher for both punting and placekicking duties. He was 19/23 on field goals last year, and averaged over 44 yards per punt.

In the return game, burner Ameer Abdullah is the primary kickoff and punt return man. He's really a perfect return man with his size (5'9) and elite speed, and averaged nearly 30 yards per kickoff return and scoring once.

That concludes the Nebraska Cornhuskers preview. Fire away with any additional thoughts and
comments.

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