The adjustment to Erik Chinander’s 3-4 scheme in 2018 was far from pleasant for the Nebraska defense. The lack of a pass rush saw the Cornhuskers struggle to keep offenses from moving on the ground and through the air. However, we finally saw the Blackshirts come together during a pivotal 9-6 win over Michigan State. That contest showed us what Chinander’s units are capable of despite the scheme’s embryonic tenure in Lincoln.
Nebraska ranked 96th against the run, allowing almost 196 rushing yards per game. They only managed to keep two opponents (Colorado and Northwestern) below 100 yards on the ground while giving up 200 yards five times, including 300-plus to Wisconsin and Illinois.
The Huskers were quite average when trying to prevent red zone scoring, finishing 53rd in that area with an 81.8 percent success rate by opponents (including 33 touchdowns out of the 45 scores). Attempts to disrupt opponents’ backfields saw disappointing returns overall with just 7.5 tackles for a loss from Khalil Davis, five from Ben Stille and 2.5 from both Carlos Davis and Freedom Akinmoladun.
Touching on the Huskers’ lack of an attack from edge rushers, while Stille did account for five sacks. Khalil Davis and Akinmoladun chalked up a scant 2.5 each. Mick Stoltenberg did his best as Nebraska’s first nose tackle under Chinander, but his height (6-5) was a major disadvantage. A tip of the cap is absolutely necessary considering he battled through injuries throughout the season.
Key Departures: DE Freedom Akinmoladun, NT Mick Stoltenberg
Key Returners for 2019: DL Carlos Davis (Sr.), DL Khalil Davis (Sr.), DE Ben Stille (Jr.), NT Damion Daniels (So.)
Nebraska’s defensive line is starting to resemble a proper 3-4 front. Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels is versatile enough to man either the strong-side defensive end or nose tackle position with his 6-foot-3, 320-pound frame. He could swap positions with Carlos Davis whose measurables (6-2, 325) are even more suited for the nose tackle spot.
The other Davis brother, Khalil, seems like a lock to handle weak-side duties. While the strong-side defensive end and nose tackle spots are fluid, both Carlos Davis and Daniels are able to back each other up at those respective positions, if necessary. At nose tackle, Daniels’ little brother, Damien, provides quality depth. Behind Khalil Davis, Ben Stille provides Nebraska with a speedier option in pass rush situations.
One major storyline heading into the fall will be the impact signee Ty Robinson has. Unfortunately, he’s not available for the spring. However, he’s one of the crown jewels of the Huskers’ 2019 class. Seeing him get experience in four of the Big Red’s upcoming contests while retaining a redshirt year appears inevitable.
Position Grade for 2019: B-
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) and enjoy the Eight Laces podcast. To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.