LINCOLN, Neb. — For the first time since December, a fully padded Nebraska football team scrimmaged live at practice.
And though there wasn’t any scorekeeping Saturday at Hawks Championship Center, the defense definitely won the day, head coach Mike Riley said afterward.
“I thought that it was a very good indicator of overall what you have to do to win,” Riley said of his defense.
Riley specifically noted that the Huskers defense allowed just one touchdown drive in the the 68-play scrimmage, and was pleased with the lack of big plays the defense gave up — despite the offense’s efforts to go deep a few times.
“We had big play-action, big post (route) down the field, close but not complete,” Riley said. “And that’s the kind of thing you have to be in good position to make those plays. It has to be an emphasis and a mindset and I think (defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) is all over that. All over it. And I think that’s one of the key ingredients in winning.”
Offensively, redshirt junior Tanner Lee, battling with redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien to be starting quarterback, took first-team snaps. But Riley reiterated afterward that Nebraska is still not going to name a starter for some time. Riley was also very pleased with a third quarterback, true freshman and early enrollee Tristan Gebbia.
But it was the defense’s day, particularly the linebackers. Sophomore Mohamed Barry had a tremendous day at outside linebacker, forcing some takeaways. Freshman Avery Roberts was all over the field and sophomore JoJo Domann was in quite a few big plays, as was sophomore Tyrin Ferguson.
“I’m excited about that group,” Riley said.
Diaco and the defensive sideline was loud at practice, specifically after each third-down stop and turnover. The enthusiasm of Diaco is starting to spread in the defense, Riley said.
“I think that those things that we all believe in, that he has brought as a philosophy, are alive because when it happens he enthusiastically puts and exclamation point on it,” Riley said.
When Riley let former defensive coordinator Mark Banker go in the offseason, he said he specifically wanted to go to a 3-4 defense. And on Saturday, he said, we saw a little of why.
He also loves the move of senior Josh Kalu to safety from corner, and likes sophomore Lamar Jackson at corner. He likes the depth at linebacker, he likes what he has up front. And he’s liked what Diaco and the coaches have done so far, he said.
“I love the work being done by the coaches, I love the buy-in by the players, I think the movement and change of some positions will make us better,” Riley said. “Those I think there’s a true excitement about why (we moved) to a 3-4 defense.”