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Rutgers Football defensive report card v. Nebraska

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Opinions will strongly differ on this performance.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Nebraska
Saturday featured a hard-nosed physical football game.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Four down, eight to go as we are already a third of the way through the season. Crazy. Same format as we break down the defensive performance at each of the three levels organized by alignment, assignment, and technique. The players listed in each group are in order of how noticeable they were to me, but potentially not every player who saw action. Let us know how you feel about the defensive performance with our poll and in the comments below.

Defensive Line: C (Davis, Joseph-Day, Turner, Wilkins, Bateky, Turay, Lumor, Previlon)

Alignment: The defensive line stayed in mostly 40 fronts, with more 50 looks that included a linebacker than in previous weeks. To better address Nebraska’s running game, will need to rewatch to see if they adjusted the shades on the o-linemen. There was one time Turay lined up in the middle, and it worked.

Assignment: Rutgers defensive line played it pretty straight up. They did a few stunts, but not much. Also few, if any, linebacker blitzes to shift gap assignments. This was pretty old school man on man up front big boy football.

Technique: The defensive line did not get enough pressure, partially because they could not stop the run so it was often second or third and short. The run defense eroded over the course of the game perhaps due to tired legs which was obvious as the unit was getting on or off the field. Normally when that happens you see pad level start to elevate, that was less evident than just looking a step slow. Nebraska’s pass blocking was generally solid and they did an excellent job of changing up the scheme between max protections, keeping a back in, or using a tight end especially on the side of their true freshman right tackle. Rutgers did not generate enough penetration by getting off blocks in the run game.

Individual other player thoughts: Davis is undersized, but he is quick (4 tackles). Bateky played and looked fine (4 tackles, 1 for loss) in limited action with a nice batted pass. Kevin Wilkins (5 tackles, none solo) still has untapped talent. Neither Joseph-Day (3 tackles) nor Previlon (1 tackle) made the same impact as earlier this year. Turner (1 tackle, 1 QB hit) had a good motor but made some mistakes in his first Big Ten game. Turay did not seem to be a factor in the pass game but did contribute 8 tackles as the Huskers ran directly at him to try and wear him down. Lumor had no stats. I don’t believe Hogan played.

Half of the equation that decided this game was RU’s defensive line’s inability to stop the run in the second half. It’s difficult to grade below a C because it’s not like they were totally manhandled as the “big runs” were mostly for 8 yards not 20+. EMU in week 2 got the ball out quick to avoid pressure, but Nebraska had plenty of time by mixing it up. Defense is better than 2016, but the line still has a way to go to be considered average. 0 sacks on 26 pass attempts is far from good enough.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Nebraska
Lee had too many clean pockets like this one.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers: B- (Morris, Roberts, Douglas, Margolis?)

Alignment: The linebackers played pretty vanilla in the 4-3 stack or replacing Douglas with a nickel corner. A few times one of them played up on the line.

Assignment: To the naked eye as usual, it looked like RU was just reading and reacting on defense. With Nebraska’s more pro style, that left Trevor Morris free to make a lot of tackles. Nebraska’s backs did not run many pass routes (Rutgers weakness), only one catch from the group.

Technique: This was the opportunity for linebackers to showcase improvement in 2017 and it was a mixed bag of results. Trevor Morris was unblocked a lot and ended up with 13 tackles, including 3 for loss. Roberts struggled to shed blocks and only added 4 himself, far below his normal statistical production.

Individual other player thoughts: Ross Douglas (3 tackles) played a lot more than Eric Margolis who I don’t even remember in the game. Douglas was schooled on a touchdown pass, though he had no help and it was a perfect corner throw. Trevor Morris had the 13 tackles, but also missed a few that went from no gains to big ones. The numbers for him are deceiving. DNA of a conservative game plan appears all over this review which includes personnel. Niemann feels more comfortable with his veterans, but you have to wonder if Battle or Fogg’s fresh legs (and bigger bodies) may have proven effective in the 4th quarter when Nebraska was running on seemingly every down. Had it been a bigger margin earlier, perhaps we would have seen them.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Nebraska
These images were killers.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Secondary: A- (Austin, Hampton, Hayes, Hester, Wharton, Gray)

Alignment: Nebraska’s style of offense played into Rutgers base 4-3 stack. Not sure of the exact snap counts, but Rutgers was in nickel probably between 40 and 50% of the time. The remainder featured only four DBs, with Douglas officially an OLB. There may have been a few three safety packages which we had not seen much of, as Gray (3 tackles) had some defensive snaps.

Assignment: Rutgers played press-man coverage that transitions into potential cover 6, the way Chris Ash likes it. Jam at the line with two safeties in zone. Not much corner blitzing, robber, or mixed coverages.

Technique: For the most part, Rutgers defensive backs were in the hip pockets of Husker receivers. The few times there was any significant separation was on plays where Tanner Lee had all day to make plays. Most of the pass plays resulted in throws against tight coverage and it seemed half the time were nice catches, the other half knocked away or otherwise incomplete. This was consistent with Lee’s even 50% completion rate overall.

Individual other player thoughts: Wharton (3 tackles) showed up again, especially in the run game. Hayes (6 tackles, 1 TFL) looked like an elite athlete today after some earlier hiccups. Austin (4 tackles) added an interception and played one of the best games of his career. Hampton was the main guy outside of Morris who had to make tackles, and he made 10. He was steady. Hester was his usual self, some good, some bad, seemingly involved in a big play each quarter. Kiy had the 33 yard pick six TD, but also partially offset that when he committed a penalty on a 3rd and goal from the 21 yard line!

109 yards passing allowed. That’s impressive. It’s true Nebraska stayed with the run because they had 197 yards of success plus RU’s offense was non-existent in the second half. But Tanner Lee eliminated deep shots for fear of interceptions which is a testament to where this Rutgers team was expected to be, particularly the DBs.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Nebraska
Austin is starting to live up to the hype.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching: C

This was again the typical conservative (for you Jet fans, Ted Cottrell) game plan that did hold Nebraska to a serviceable 306 total yards. Unlike Washington, this defensive line could not stop the run in this affair but they could stop the pass. Rutgers continued to play conservatively which allowed this to game to stay a one score game until Nebraska’s field goal with 2 minutes to go, for that reason I can’t go below a C. As someone who watches all the games, the defense is a little too predictable right now. To win a game in the Big Ten, Rutgers might need to take some chances defensively since the offense is ill equipped to capitalize on theirs. Nebraska played a true freshman right tackle, and did RU get any pressure against him?

Effort: B

This defense eventually wore down, but you could see even on that last drive that RU was flying to gaps to try and stop the run, they just couldn’t force 4th down. Defensive backs were generally all over the place. Too many extra effort yards, though RU’s offense was able to do the same (their one bright spot).

Overall grade: B-

As a defensive guy, this was tough to watch because first down it seemed the Huskers always got at least 5 or 6 yards. So then 2nd down everything in the playbook is available, RU gets no pass rush (0 sacks) and Nebraska gets a shot deep. RU was able to force Nebraska into enough of third downs, but the Huskers did convert (8 of 17) a lot better than even the Huskies in week 1. They did hold Nebraska to a field goal after a called back pick 6 and after the offense turned the ball over at midfield on a 4th down. Overall, an above average offensive performance and Rutgers probably wins this game.

After some variance early on, this is exactly what the Rutgers defense was expected to be. Solid yet unspectacular DBs, average linebacking play, and a defensive line with no pass rush that is somewhat improved against the run. Which units will be able to improve? Or do they continue to play straight up, which may limit or mask growth?

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: This game was actual football, but RU did go through a ridiculous offensive drought without Grant in the second half.

What we learned that will apply next week

Reasons for pessimism: 1. Rutgers is 1-12 in their last 13. 2. Rutgers has not beaten an FBS opponent in 372 days. 3. Until they show show me a B1G win ... 4. Linebackers weren’t able to pick up their teammates. 5. Defensive line gets zero pressure. 6. Those turnovers were against the nation’s leader in INTs. 7. We need to “force turnovers” not just get lucky 8. Even though they were also 1-2 to start the day, it was still Nebraska, in Lincoln. 9. Rutgers offense is simply not good, especially without Grant. 10. Urban Meyer next week, here comes 1-4.

Reasons for optimism: 1. Nebraska had a ton of pent up energy, won’t see anything like that again this season. 2. Defense had two picks, including a pick six. 3. Defense allowed 27 points which is pretty average this day in age. 4. Nebraska only had 109 yards passing. 5. The longest pass play allowed was only 18 yards. 6. The longest run allowed was 20 yards, nothing like last year’s losses. 7. What if RU picked up that fumble with 4 min left OR Hester did not get called for a penalty on 3rd and goal from the 21 in the 3rd quarter? 8. If you play in enough of these actual football games, eventually you win, right? 9. Janarion Grant should play again this season 10. If this game was at home, same result? 11. Same as last week, had RU scored a late TD to beat EMU and now sat at 2-2 after a battle in Lincoln, would you not be somewhat optimistic?

Dave wonders ... what if Dacoven Bailey simply catches that easy 2nd down pass with RU up 10-7 in the second quarter? He could have got YAC, added time of possession, and maybe eliminates the huge punt return two plays later.

Poll

How do you grade Rutgers defense v. Nebraska?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    A: The offense had the ball for 6 minutes in the second half. Give me a break.
    (32 votes)
  • 27%
    B: Facing an actual offense, had a pick 6 and this went down to the wire.
    (37 votes)
  • 34%
    C: This defensive effort was par for a B1G team, nothing more, nothing less.
    (46 votes)
  • 6%
    D: On the road, defense needs to carry RU by controlling the game.
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    F: Nebraska’s QB throws picks all over the place, you can’t stop a 1 dimensional team?
    (10 votes)
133 votes total Vote Now