Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012 AT 6:57 PM / Updated at 7:30 PM
Practice report: Papuchis says third downs will be key Saturday
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

The success Michigan had on third down against Nebraska last year, especially in obvious passing situations, played a “huge part” in the 45-17 NU loss, defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.

Quarterback Denard Robinson completed five of his eight pass attempts on third down. He totaled 127 yards on those five passes, including a touchdown throw. Nebraska was also whistled for a defensive pass interference on a third down and goal play.

Papuchis said the Wolverines had certain route combinations that exploited the way NU runs its match-up zone defense. The coaches set aside time in the spring to analyze it, he said.

“Some teams, if they study how we match routes enough, can kind of manipulate some of our adjustments,” Papuchis said. “But then we have to counter it.”

Nebraska ranks fourth in the Big Ten in third down defense at 34.2 percent. Northwestern converted just 25 percent of its third downs against the Huskers last week.

“I thought we played third down really well (against Northwestern),” Papuchis said. “We’re getting closer to where we need to be.”

More notes from practice…

>> Cornerback Josh Mitchell, who missed last weekend’s game with an ankle injury, expects to play against Michigan. Closing in on 100 percent healthy, Mitchell said.

>> Running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and defensive tackle Chase Rome (head) did not practice. … Also out of practice Tuesday was redshirting quarterback Tommy Armstrong (undisclosed injury). Armstrong, in street clothes, was involved with the offense during pre-practice warmups and walk-throughs.

>> Senior safeties P.J. Smith and Daimion Stafford were two of the last Husker players off the practice field Tuesday. They’ve been improving on the field and have been setting a good example off it, according to Papuchis. “They understand what’s at stake,” he said.

>> Junior Andrew Green played the dime back position in passing situations against Northwestern, replacing sophomore Corey Cooper. Senior Antonio Bell earned some snaps, too. “That was all reflective of (Northwestern’s) personnel,” Papuchis said. He added that the versatility in the secondary gives the NU staff a nice luxury to mix and match, when needed.

>> Senior defensive end Cameron Meredith practiced at D-tackle midway through last week and could appear at that spot again Saturday, according to Papuchis. Although maybe less frequently. Said Papuchis: “With us getting healthier I don’t know that the necessity for him to be inside will be as significant.”

>> Biggest keys against Robinson as a runner? “Tackling well and being assignment-sound,” Papuchis said.

About Jon Nyatawa

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008. He and his laptop, cell phone, tape recorder, pen and notebook all live in Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter: @JonNyatawa. Email him here: jon.nyatawa@owh.com. He welcomes feedback.