Published Tuesday, September 10, 2013 AT 7:25 PM / Updated at 7:31 PM
Practice report, Sept. 10: Third down defense important against UCLA
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

Get off the field when you have the chance. That’s one of the keys for Nebraska’s defense in Saturday’s game against UCLA, according to defensive coordinator John Papuchis.

The Bruins converted nine of their 20 third downs in that 36-30 win over the Huskers last year — what Papuchis said ultimately led to a disparity in plays (UCLA ran 96 compared to NU’s 67) and time of possession (37:40 for the Bruins vs. 22:20 for NU). Nebraska didn’t tackle well out in Pasadena, either, Papuchis said.

But many of the issues centered on third down execution.

“It’s just hard to win that way and I think it all came back to our ability to get off the field when we had our opportunities,” he said.

Nebraska’s been better this year. In two games, Husker opponents have converted just five of their 21 third down attempts (14th-best nationally). The four-man pass rush against Southern Miss Saturday was particularly effective, Papuchis said.

“It allowed us to play some more coverage and force the ball out quickly — because I thought we got some good pressure,” Papuchis said.

>> Junior linebacker Zaire Anderson said he thinks he’ll have a “huge role” in Nebraska’s game plan this week. He understands what’s being asked of him better now. Anderson made his season debut as a reserve weakside linebacker against Southern Miss Saturday.

>> Senior Thad Randle, who limped off the field a couple times Saturday, was wearing pads on Tuesday after practicing for two hours. He said he was feeling fine. Just rolled an ankle. … (No surprise, by the way. The veteran defensive tackle made a career of playing through pain.)

>> The guy who stands out of UCLA’s offensive line is left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, according to NU defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski. But the entire Bruin line plays a relentless style. Said Kaczenski: “They’re going to make contact and they’re going to keep their legs driving, and then once you’re on the ground, they’re going to dig you into the ground.”

>> UCLA tied for the lead nationally with eight blocked kicks/punts last year. The Bruins blocked three punts last season and had another one in their opener. … But what scares special teams coordinator Ross Els more is their ability to return punts. They averaged 9.2 yards per chance in 2012. “They’re more dangerous in the return game,” he said. “I like how they hold people up, so we have to keep doing different things in our punting game.”

>> Papuchis said he’s watched film of last year’s loss to UCLA “probably about 20 times,” dating back to the offseason. “We’ve studied it inside and out,” he said. “How they tried to attack us, where we were vulnerable, where they exposed us in some areas and also some things that we did well.” Coach Bo Pelini indicated Monday that the offseason review process for the UCLA loss wasn’t much different than how the staff evaluates every other game.

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.