Nebraska’s Defensive Woes: How Serious are They?

| by Alex Groberman

The Nebraska Cornhuskers’ 3-0 mark through three games this year has been almost entirely spearheaded by their offense.

Despite initial concerns regarding quarterback Taylor Martinez’s ability to lead the unit, the offensive line’s injuries, and the new schemes being implemented by Tim Beck – the Huskers are more or less thriving on that side of the ball. In fact, a case could be made for Nebraska’s offense compensating for their team’s defensive struggles thus far in the season.

It’s just doesn't feel right.

When it was all said and done on Saturday, the Nebraska defense racked up two sacks and three tackles for a loss. They allowed Washington quarterback, Keith Price, to put up four touchdowns and 274 yards, on 21-of-37 passing.

And, of course, they gave up 130 yards and a score on 22 rushes to Huskies running back Chris Polk a mere week after giving up 169 yards on the ground to Fresno State running back, Robbie Rouse.

Coming into the year, the Huskers had three preseason All-Americans on defense that were supposed to lead this unit to glory. Obviously, an injury robbed Alfonzo Dennard of what surely would have been a key role on the unit, but that’s part of the game. The other two pieces, however, in Jared Crick and Lavonte David have been putting up mixed results so far.

David contributed eight tackles on the day, but his most memorable play, no doubt, was a late first-quarter interception. Sticking tight in a one-on-one battle with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, David timed it perfectly and slickly picked off the pass to earn his first interception in a Nebraska uniform.

Crick, for his part, finally got his first sack of the year on Price at the beginning of the second quarter. As the Washington passer tried to scramble and find an open man, Crick absolutely leveled him. This sack came on the heels of an almost-sack one player earlier, in almost the same exact situation.

And Cameron Meredith, who never seems to get the right amount of praise, pitched in as well with a big hit on Price late in the third quarter as Nebraska was looking to put Washington away for good.

So, clearly, the playmakers did make plays – that much is irrefutable. The question, though, becomes whether or not they made enough plays.

In simple terms: no.

The secondary, albeit looking a little better this week, still looked substandard clearly struggled with the hits they’ve taken over the last year both as a result of injuries and NFL Draft. Josh Mitchell’s increased role seemed to smooth things out a bit this time around, but Andrew Green remains a pretty big concern. Don’t forget, it was his slip versus Chattanooga that ultimately kept that game from being a shutout. Plus, as a result of an overall lack of confidence in the secondary, the rest of the defense is clearly trying to make up for problems that are obvious to everyone.

Consistency by the unit also deserves mention.

“I don’t like the way we finished,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said afterward. “Defensively, I thought we became lax and did some bonehead things.”

Look, Nebraska has been winning these games any which way, and that’s what’s most important. At the end of the day, when you’re looking back on this 2011 campaign, the manner in which the victories came will be irrelevant so long as you get the right amount. What’s mildly troubling at this point, though, is how the manner in which the Huskers are winning now against the likes of Chattanooga, Fresno State and Washington will translate when they play the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State, etc.

And, according to a lot of people, it won't translate well.