Wait, these are the infamous Blackshirts? The same Nebraska Cornhuskers who got smacked around in a 31-point loss this past weekend, courtesy of Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin Badgers?
It can’t be.
Coming into the 2011 season, there were a lot of question marks surrounding this Huskers bunch. The offensive line was hurt, Taylor Martinez was still Taylor Martinez, there was a new offensive coordinator, a new conference, etc. The one constant, everyone assumed, was that the Nebraska defense would still be the Nebraska defense that has built up a reputation as being one of the roughest and most hard-nosed in the nation.
That expectation was deemed realistic by defensive coordinator Carl Pelini in the preseason, when he said that this could be one of the four best defenses he’s ever coached.
Alas, that has not been the case.
Through five games, the Huskers are giving up 27 points and 377 yards per outing. They’ve allowed the likes of Robbie Rouse, Chris Polk and Montee Ball run all over the field to the tune of at least 100 yards – and are currently giving up 152 yards per game on the ground. Of course, their holes aren’t limited to the rush defense. They’ve also given up ten touchdown throws on the year and 224 yards passing per game.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
In the early going, Nebraska’s three preseason All-American defensive studs in Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard were supposed to spearhead a unit to be reckoned with. One that would dominate the Big Ten. But then, Dennard got hurt. As a result of that injury, the secondary suddenly became a major, gaping hole for the team and, to date, the squad still hasn’t found a way to patch it back up. Even Dennard's recent return hasn't stopped opposing offenses from simply targeting whoever he wasn't covering.
On top of that, though, there is just a general chaotic vibe coming from the defensive unit that everyone, including head coach Bo Pelini, has noticed.
"It's one thing to do it in practice and another when the bullets are flying," Pelini said. "You have to do it. At the end of the day, we were in position. We just didn't make a play. It's not magical."
Fortunately for the Huskers, they may have found the cure to all their problems in the porous offense that’s coming to town on Saturday. The Buckeyes, as it stands, rank 108th in total offense and average 308 yards per outing. The protection up front is awful too, with a total of nine sacks being allowed in last week’s 10-7 defeat to the Michigan State Spartans.
So, can the Husker defense finally step up and do some damage, as many anticipated they would all year long?
Against this Buckeye offensive attack, probably.
Will it last through the rest of the year, though?