There are 128 teams in the FBS level of college football. All but seven had better pass defense rankings than Nebraska (ranked No. 122) in 2015. The Cornhuskers' secondary was a unit that looked like it was playing with soap attached to their shoes, to be sure. However, thanks to an influx of talent and a year of taking lumps, the Blackshirts’ back end will likely be overlooked and that’s part of what makes it dangerous in 2016.
Last season’s pass defense was simply porous, giving up 290.5 yards per game and always presenting the opposing quarterback a chance to look like a Heisman contender. The Blackshirts only managed to keep offenses from throwing for fewer than 250 yards on three occasions (vs. Northwestern, Rutgers and Iowa).
This is somewhat understandable as defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s base defense was new and as a result, even some of the veterans had to get their metaphorical sea legs. Even captain Nate Gerry didn’t look the part until the final two games of the season.
Key Departures: Daniel Davie, Jonathan Rose
Key Returners for 2016: Joshua Kalu (Jr.), Charles Jackson (Sr.), Chris Jones (Jr.), Nate Gerry (Sr.), Aaron Williams (So.), Kieron Williams (Jr.)
What turned out to be an absolute mess in 2015 may be one of the best parts of the 2016 defense. Several highly-rated recruits from the past two classes could see quality playing time.
Cornerbacks Avery Anderson and Eric Lee sat out last year, though they may have been right on the cusp of trotting onto the field. With Davie and Rose gone, this ups their chances of showing Nebraska fans what they can do.
Incoming recruit Lamar Jackson has all of the talent necessary to walk in and snag a Blackshirt during his true freshman year.
Gerry has positive momentum coming into his final season as a Cornhusker. If he can build on it, he should go out with a memorable campaign. If not, a safety duo of Williams and Williams isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The key is that Banker’s scheme has been learned and can be taught from the guys who’ve already been through the ringer to the young guns. It also helps that defensive backs coach Brian Stewart isn’t starting from scratch.
If Nebraska can develop a pass rush, the Blackshirts should be more than capable of turning their 2015 pass defense ranking into something more palatable for ‘16.