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Amie Just: Making NU's special teams better starts with a culture shift. So far, so good

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Amie Just delivers the latest Four Downs on Friday at Memorial Stadium.

Scott Frost was curious.

Eight days into preseason practices, he wanted to know which period of practice was the toughest for his Huskers. So he asked a couple unnamed players for their thoughts.

“They all said special teams,” Frost said Monday. “That means we’re putting in the work. That means the guys are buying in and making sure they give good effort there.”

There’s no nice way to say it; Nebraska special teams coordinator Bill Busch inherited a group coming off one collectively disastrous season.

It’s not a secret.

He knows it. Frost knows it. The players know it. Everyone knows it.

If the picture painted on Saturdays for the special teams units looked ugly — three allowed touchdowns, eight missed field goals, four missed extra points, a safety, etc. — the metrics resulted in an even more unsightly image.

Out of every single FBS team in college football, Nebraska wasn’t the worst (Temple holds that distinction), but it was right there with the Owls at No. 129 out of No. 130 in combined efficiency of all four units, as tabulated by Football Outsiders. ESPN’s metrics were incrementally better, putting Nebraska at third-to-worst, rather than second-to-worst.

If Busch can help it, he wants to leave that embarrassing production unbecoming of Nebraska football in the past.

Changing that mindset starts with buy-in from everyone.

And he means everyone.

“In most places, guys, you don’t get the defensive coordinator, usually in most places they just step off during special teams and they’re on the sideline hanging out,” Busch said.

Not Erik Chinander.

“Coach Chins is out there with me for every single drill. ‘What do you need done?’” Busch said. “... I’m telling you, offensive and defensive assistant coaches are kicking ass and I appreciate it.”

Busch continued: “It takes a whole unit of coaches to build ‘em to get them ready. Yes, I organize it. I’m the one in charge of it, but our assistant coaches are lights out and I feel it’s gonna be a big difference for us.”

This isn’t his first rodeo. Nor is it the second for the Pender native.

Ohio State vs. Nebraska, 11.6

Nebraska kicker Chase Contreraz (left) misses the second of two field goals against Ohio State, this one in the fourth quarter, Nov. 6, 2021, at Memorial Stadium.

Busch has coached special teams at Wisconsin (2013-14) and was the special teams coordinator for Utah State (2011-12) and previously within the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium (2005-07).

Busch’s 2007 Nebraska outfit ranked No. 26 by Football Outsiders in special teams efficiency, and his teams at Utah State jumped from near-last at No. 117 in 2011 all the way up to No. 66 in 2012.

“Really helps having Bill Busch full-time here,” Frost said. “Just that consistent and constant voice rather than having them breaking it up, having one guy in charge of it. The detail is really good.”

Timmy Bleekrode, the transfer kicker out of Furman that Nebraska has already tabbed to be its starter, noted that immediately — also using the word “detailed” when describing his new coach.

At most places, Bleekrode said, kickers are left to their own devices during practice.

Not here, though.

Busch didn’t want to speak on how things are done at other schools, but he feels that his specialists have responded extremely well to the structured, 24-period schedule.

“He schedules us out for a whole practice and we’re getting work on things that kickers might forget to do on a day-by-day basis,” Bleekrode said.

On top of it all, one culture change Busch is trying to cultivate is that special teams is not a lesser aspect of the game, but the third and equal phase.

That’s something linebacker Luke Reimer appreciates.

“It’s a privilege to be on special teams,” Reimer said. “It’s not just like, ‘Oh, you’re a starter on offense, you’re a starter on defense, those are the cool ones, where special teams is like leftovers.’ We’re twisting that to where special teams is just as important.”

Special teams should have been just as important all along, but if the buy-in seen at practice translates into production on game day?

Considering where Nebraska was last year, the Huskers can only go up from here.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ajust@journalstar.com

On Twitter @Amie_Just.

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