Dec 12, 2012

Unit Breakdown: Nebraska Defense

Two things define Nebraska Cornhuskers football more than anything else: a strong defense and a strong running game. It is the backbone of Midwestern football, and something Nebraska does better than most, both in the Big Ten and around the country. Both were key to the Huskers 10-3 finish this season, and could be the reasons the Capital One Bowl trophy spends 2013 in Lincoln.

As the game approaches, we’re taking a look back at the Huskers season on both sides of the ball for Nebraska. Today we look at the defense, led by LB Will Compton.

The Stats

  • 26.2 points per game
  • 194.85 rushing yards per game
  • 148.2 passing yards per game
  • 343.1 total yards per game

The stats for Nebraska’s defense should come with an asterisk. Giving up 70 points and 539 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game has resulted in some skewed averages. Their points per game average drops to 22.58 if the second Wisconsin game is removed, and moves them up more nearly 30 spots in the national rankings.

Despite the Big Ten Championship Game, the Huskers have the 23rd best defense as far as total yards, which is ahead of their Capital One Bowl opponent, Georgia (27th). Especially in the case of Nebraska, one game does not define a season.

The Running Game

Even prior to the Big Ten Championship Game, the Blackshirts were not having a stellar year stopping the run. Removing that game’s totals does improve the Huskers national ranking by around 40 spots, but jumping from 109th to 70th still means Bo Pelini’s crew has some work to do. With Georgia averaging 184.5 yards a game, they could be running the ball a lot on New Year’s Day.

A big part of Nebraska’s run defense is leading tackler LB Will Compton. Registering 101 total tackles on the season, the senior is the Blackshirts’ centerpiece. In seven game games this season, Compton had at least nine tackles. It should be no surprise that his worst performance of the season, just three tackles, coincided with the Big Ten Championship Game loss.

The Passing Game

The Blackshirts strength in 2012 has been their pass defense. Allowing just 148.2 yards per game, Nebraska ranks first in the nation against the throw. The Huskers allowed just four pass plays of over 40 yards this year, and just 16 of over 30 yards.

Leading the pass defense for the Huskers is DB Daimion Stafford. The senior corner leads the Big Ten with four interceptions this year. As a unit, the Huskers totaled 11 interceptions, good for fourth in the conference. They also returned two of their picks for scores.

Aiding the pass defense is the Nebraska front line. Led by DL Eric Martin’s 8.5 sacks, the Huskers rank 35th in the FBS with 29 sacks. The line also has 36 QB hurries on the season. By comparison, the top-ranked defense in the country (Alabama) has 44. The Blackshirts aren’t far behind.

The Capital One Bowl will come down to how Nebraska handle’s Georgia’s balanced offensive attack. Having the top-ranked pass defense against one college football’s most pro-ready quarterbacks in Aaron Murray certainly helps the Huskers, but they must contain the Dawgs’ rushing attack. If Nebraska stops the run, don’t be surprised if the SEC’s streak of Capital One Bowl wins ends this year.

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