On paper, it appears the 2020 edition of the Nebraska defense is ready to take a step back, at least during the early-to-mid portion of the season. Erik Chinander has to address a front seven situation largely in flux and that only along the defensive line. Let's review what steps forward Nebraska was able to take and the personnel losses they'll have to recover from.
Last season, we saw Khalil Davis take a significant leap in production raising his tackles for a loss and sack totals from 2018 by 3.5 and five, respectively. Brother Carlos also managed to up his game slightly with increases of two TFLs and three sacks.
Oklahoma State graduate transfer Darrion Daniels also proved to be a valuable force at nose tackle. While his stat sheet wasn’t mind-blowing — consider it an understandable byproduct of the position — his passion and leadership both on and off the field were notable.
Ben Stille performed well in relief playing in all 12 contests while the aforementioned trio only saw time in 11 games each.
The Huskers did see growth in limiting their opponents' on third down, giving up a little more than 40 percent of these opportunities, compared to 43 percent in 2018. That was good for a 30-spot jump in the national rankings. Still far from where they want to be, but a notable upswing.
Another area that saw an uptick in performance was stopping the opposition on fourth down. In '18, Nebraska allowed an opponent to covert roughly 58 percent of attempts. This year that number was 44 percent. This resulted in a jump from 93rd in Frost's first season at the helm to 36th.
Key Departures: Carlos Davis, Khalil Davis, Darrion Daniels
Key Returnees for 2020: Ben Stille (Sr.), Deontre Thomas (Jr.), Keem Green (Jr.), Damion Daniels (Jr.), Ty Robinson (RFr.)
Consider that for all the progress Nebraska made in those statistical categories, the entire starting lineup leaves due to graduation.
The Huskers have had difficulty defending the run during Chinander’s tenure as they allowed 196 rushing yards per game in 2018 (ranking 96th nationally) seeing only slight improvement this past season (188 ypg).
Chinander’s crew did see a slight boost in sacks from year one (25) to year two (27), but that only further highlights the concern.
What this means is we’ll not only see a completely new lineup for spring practice but that depth chart may very well remain fluid all the way through fall.
A great deal will ride the likes of Ty Robinson, Deontre Thomas, and Stille being able to pick up where the Davis brothers left off on the edges. Damion Daniels, Keem Green, and new junior college transfer Jordon Riley must step up at nose tackle.
This unit faces an extremely delicate situation and is one to definitely keep an eye on well past March and April.
Position Grade for 2019: C-
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) and enjoy the Big Red Three and Out Podcast. To contact him, click here.