As Husker fans we’ve had a rough go of it this century. No conference titles, and even when we had coaches here that were playing for them like Bo, we had an AD that was inserted to drive him out. Fan is short for ‘fanatic’ so it’s only natural that we start wondering what the heck is going on. After all, every recruiting site is telling us how much better our players are than the teams we have been losing to the past couple decades.
Again, it’s only natural for Nebraska Football fans to start rationalizing and it to gravitate towards absurdity. I’ll bring this one up since the coach is no longer here, but remember back in 2018 when we as fans were told “they weren’t even squatting before we got here!” When you perused the message boards and social media, it was evident people found that as one of the many problems. “No wonder we were soft”, “no wonder we couldn’t finish games”, and on down the list. We were refreshed, we thought we had our answer and basically neglected the fact that there were videos of us squatting on social media to verify that we were squatting. But we were so desperate for a reason, we took it at face value.
I’ve gone way off track there with that story, but I bring it up because I feel like some of the things I read were forgetting history. Chinander was the target for many attacks when the staff first got here, and even throughout the first couple seasons. I had to sit there and tell people that it takes a special Defensive Coordinator to want to be a part of a team that builds an offense the way we do because your defensive unit will be put in some bad positions sometimes. But if you embrace that, and have a head coach like Frost who understands your position, you can start valuing things like “taking risks to create turnovers” and other things we preach at practice. For me, the people calling to move on from Chinander were no better than the people that chose to get rid of Mark Banker despite him having a better unit than Langsdorf under Riley. Where would we have been last year if not for the defense? Northwestern wouldn’t have even been close, literally our only touchdown that game was a 7 second 3 yard drive set up by an INT from the defense. Penn State we had a scoop and score by our defense for a touchdown. And I could point to other games. Now, i’m not saying the defense is void of some clunker games like Illinois or Ohio State, but when our team is built around our offense, that side of the ball needs to pick up the slack when we are struggling. The very first play of the game our offense fumbled the thing.
What i’m getting at is I don’t believe Chinander gets enough credit. His best players are the ones sticking around unlike the offense. And he did something sneaky smart in 2020 that really played to our strengths. It’s very rare in football that your deficiency can somehow parlay itself into helping your unit. I am a huge Damion Daniels fan, that guy is as good of a NG as you can get for stopping the run in the B1G. But he does struggle for consecutive plays, and he’s not great in space (not bashing, just pointing things out). In 2018 and 2019 it didn’t matter as we had Stoltenberg and Daniels his brother that he could share reps with. But it was no secret in 2020 NG was thin. Everyone kept pointing to The Polar Bear as someone that would try to step in due to his strength and wrestling background, but I tried to throw caution there. There is a massive gap between South Dakota high school football and 2 gapping in a big boy conference like the B1G. It was something our team had to overcome. We could slide guys like Robinson to NG, Jordon Riley was going to be ok but he was a first year guy who ended up battling injuries all year in 2020. But was that a good long term plan?
Coach Chinander ended up implementing what teams like Wisconsin, Alabama, and Georgia did for their nickel packages… and that was remove your NG, keep your 2 DEs in like Stille, Rogers, and Robinson, and move your 2 OLBs to DE. This did a couple of things, the first is it got more athleticism to the field to help rush the QB as you essentially traded a NG for a LB or DB. The second is it helped get our NG off the field for a bit and catch his breath.
For a reminder, let’s take a look at what things looked like before this. In the video from 2019, you can see 3 DL still in the game and just not much of a rush, we get stalemated a bit:
Now… was that probably just a good video to illustrate what I was saying? Ya, I mean there were two NFL draft picks there along the DL you weren’t going to take out. But watch on this next one where we do not have a NG… it allows Chinander to get more creative in getting to the QB with movement and blitz packages:
While I still think Khalil and Carlos Davis are underappreciated (they accounted for 12 sacks in 2019), I think they would have thrived in this new scheme Chinander has created to put more athletes on the field.
With Chinanders defense being our best unit by far last year, I just think some of us need to pull back the reigns on calling for him to be fired (just search ‘Chinander fired’ in Twitter). Now, if Frosts offense gets humming like we thought it would and our defense remains in the 60s for scoring defense like it was in 2019 and 2020 we can revisit this. But as of right now, our defensive coordinator has his guys playing for him, sticking around, and carrying the team. Tough to not be upbeat about that side of the ball with 8 starters returning.
Tune in next time for my talk about the great debate of the 3-4 and OLBs/NGs. While this post helped us get more athletes on the field, our sacks did get cut in half from 2019 to 2020 (makes sense when you lose 2 NFL draft picks) along the DL. How can we get more pressure, and still use the 3-4 that everyone seems to be indifferent on for the B1G?