There is typically a laid-back and relaxed type of vibe at the Big Red Breakfast, where Husker fans get face-to-face interaction with NU coaches once a week. Usually a few tough questions will surface, but most are high-arching softballs: Here’s a topic and answer how you wish.
Not Friday. Not six days after one of the worst defensive performances in coach Bo Pelini’s tenure.
John Papuchis was on hand and the passionate Husker fans in attendance, purposeful and direct in their phrasing, had specific inquires they wanted their defensive coordinator to address.
Papuchis did his best during 45 minutes of Q&A, though he did get a little testy when he thought a fan was questioning the team’s goals. National championships are always the top priority, according to Papuchis. “There is a perception that we’ve lowered our standard — and we haven’t,” he said.
More highlights are below. We’ll have much more on Papuchis’ speech in Friday’s Metro edition of The World-Herald. There’s something about his new job that he didn’t fully expect… (How’s that for a teaser?)
Now, on to the highlights!
>> Junior Zaire Anderson will start at “will” (or weakside) linebacker for Nebraska Saturday, Papuchis said. Redshirt freshman David Santos is expected to play at that spot, too.
>> The question of the week, it seems: Is Nebraska’s defensive scheme too complicated? Papuchis says no. “There’s always that middle ground that you have to try to find, to make sure that you’re doing enough defensively to be effective — but you also, obviously, want to get your best players on the field.”
>> What’s up with the pass rush (or lack thereof)? Philosophically, one of the Huskers’ top priorities is to limit big plays in the passing game, so keeping more guys in coverage is often NU’s strategy, Papuchis said. That puts “a lot of stress” on the D-line, he said. “We limit their ability to turn it loose at times, and just wildly and recklessly rush the passer because of the way in which we match routes on the backend.”
>> One more pass rush quote from Papuchis: “There’s six gaps with four rushers, and those guys have got to do the best job that they can to keep that (QB) in the pocket — because there’s nobody else looking at him.”
>> Papuchis said members of the Husker defensive coaching staff have visited Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma during the last two offseasons.
>> UCLA’s pre-snap motions on offense seemed to fracture Nebraska’s defensive scheme a bit last week. Why? The offseason objective was to avoid stale play calling when opponents increased their tempo, Papuchis said. “We didn’t want all the window dressing of UCLA to force us to become very vanilla, very predictable. … We didn’t adjust as well as we would have liked.”
>> Papuchis on the defensive linemen getting into their stances a yard off the line of scrimmage: “This has kind of become its own topic that’s kind of created its own monster running around out there.” … The ends and tackles do have to play off the ball to some degree in this defense, Papuchis said. “We initially backed our guys off two years ago to give them a better opportunity to play their technique,” he said. It was 6 inches. Then a foot. There’s a middle ground somewhere, and changes could be coming, according to Papuchis. “We don’t want to give so much ground that we become soft at the point of attack,” he said.
>> Was there anything that the defense did well against UCLA? “At any point during the game?” Papuchis asked, as a smile emerged. Everyone laughed. … Then someone asked about the disparity in field position. And then someone wondered why the tackling was so poor. And then Papuchis had to tell everyone why linebacker Will Compton was twice matched up man-to-man with a speedy running back (bad calls, he said). … So, not too much room for levity Friday.