We talked in our Season Preview about how our edge rushers more than likely were the strength of our defense and going to be needed to help us in Ireland.
At minimum they were second best on our defense as a unit behind ILB. For us to have a good game, those guys were going to have to have a good game getting to the Northwestern starting QB (turned out to be Hilinski), but more than that they were going to have to help stop the run.
Frost and Chinander had Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor coming back, but they also brought in Ochaun Mathis from TCU to help bolster our pass rush which was desperately needed. I was told by some Mathis was a sure-fire NFL prospect and when I met that with some resistance, it didn’t go well. But the bottom line is that none of our 3 top guys showed out Saturday vs Northwestern. However, it wasn’t all their fault. Let’s go into it.
Let’s talk about some of the things that we spoke about in the preview above. Northwestern knew that our interior DL was weak, so all they needed to do was neutralize our edge and things were fine. When it came to passing downs, Northwestern did something early that made a ton of sense. They used their RBs to chip on our edge guys. Take a look:
Even though Northwestern had an All-American tackle, they figured out in the first quarter that if the RBs helped chip on those edge rushers and made it 4 on 2 in favor of the Wildcats, it meant that our interior guys like Robinson and Feist would have to be who won battles to get pressure. As you can see from that video and the stats, it rarely happened. Our interior DL had no luck getting anywhere all game, many times being pushed back. Go deeper into that video than the RB chips, but Northwestern initially only sent 3 players into routes while Nebraska dropped 7 and still completed the pass. If we couldn’t get pressure with our interior, and they could complete passes with only 3 guys out, it was going to be a long day. That neutralized us in a hurry.
After getting the best of us that way, Fitzgerald and his OC found ways to get their experienced TEs we referenced in the preview into the mix. While putting 2 TEs in the game, it made it so our Edge players were wider, and at minimum couldn’t instantly rush against a tackle. In this next play, you see 2 TEs. One makes our bottom Edge widen out creating more time for the QB and have no shot against the tackle coming his way and the rollout going opposite, and the second comes across the LOS making our top Edge think he may need to help in run support.
Watch Nelson up top on this play, the TE coming at him stopped him in his tracks rushing the QB and gave Hilinski plenty of time to find that open TE down the sideline.
While we absolutely need more pressure and the Edge guys aren’t without blame, it was a pretty good gameplan to stop what our stregnth was. But Northwestern and Fitzgerald did a great job neutralizing the position group that could change the course of the game for us and create momentum. Northwesterns tackles and TEs were better than anything our defense saw all spring and fall camp, and it was illustrated by things like these videos.
Tune in tomorrow to go over the Northwestern recap.