LINCOLN — Nebraska inserted two new starting offensive linemen and moved a third from left to right tackle. That's a rare decision in college football, offensive line coach Greg Austin said Tuesday.
But it’s not new to Austin, who spent three seasons coaching in the NFL, where injuries and a 17-game grind make such changes common.
But these changes weren't easy for Nebraska. Austin and his players faced scrutiny after the Huskers’ overtime loss to Michigan State. Austin said he’s had to “look in the mirror” as he develops his offensive linemen.
“You’ve got to be real with yourself, you’ve got to be real with the kids, you’ve got to be real with everybody," Austin said. “Can’t run from it. You have to say, ‘Hey, get your head back in the office and you keep coaching and you keep trying to get better.
"… Adversity is adversity and you’ve got to be able to meet it head on. We’ve been able to run the ball since I’ve been here and this year we haven’t been able to consistently. And you can say, ‘Oh, it’s this and that’ — no. You’ve got to tweak the margins, you’ve got to find a way to continue to get better every single week.
"Because that’s life. If I’m going to tell that to my (daughters), then I better be going to work and telling it to the boys.”
Center Cam Jurgens and right guard Matt Sichterman have been the “glue” on the offensive line, as Austin has moved left tackle Teddy Prochazka and left guard Nouredin Nouili into the starting lineup and shifted left tackle Turner Corcoran to the right side.
The benched guys — Ethan Piper, Bryce Benhart and Trent Hixson — have been “professionals” in practice despite losing jobs.
Most weeks Nebraska’s defense doesn’t feel pressure. This week defensive coordinator Erik Chinander is asking them to embrace it.
No. 9 Michigan is coming to Lincoln. The Huskers will be on national television. And the lights will be on at Memorial Stadium.
“I told those guys, ‘There is pressure this game,”’ Chinander said. “The pressure is a privilege. Pressure means people are watching. Pressure means we got a job to do.”
This week’s job is a big one. Nebraska hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since Scott Frost returned to Lincoln. And while most coaches prefer to downplay the hype surrounding one game, Chinander wants his defense to understand what they’re playing for.
“When you have a veteran group, you lay it all on the line,” Chinander said. “Stretch, individual, seven-on-seven, team periods, when we walk out in those white lines on Saturday — it's always on the line. And so you got to let them know what's on the line, and you got to know what the stakes are Monday when we walk into this deal.”
At 5-foot-8, Michigan running back Blake Corum will be one of the shortest players on the field. He’ll also be among the most dangerous.
Corum ranks eighth in the Big Ten in yards per carry (6.2) and fifth in rushes of 10 yards or more (12). His low center of gravity makes life hard on open-field tacklers. If Nebraska hopes to slow him down, the Blackshirts have to stay low.
“You can't miss high,” Chinander said. “You miss high on that guy, he can put his foot in the ground (and) he can hit a home run if he slips one. So you’ve got to get your pads down low, especially in the box.”
» Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said his position group has found a general rhythm to its rotation between starters Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich and backups Chris Kolarevic and Garrett Snodgrass. Reimer (57 snaps) and Henrich (44) saw the bulk of the action against Northwestern, but Kolarevic (26) and Snodgrass (five) saw the field too.
» Like most of the team, the linebackers have stayed healthy. Ruud said luck is always involved, but players have done “a really good job” preparing physically and mentally. That includes stretching before practices and getting in ice tubs afterward regardless of how they feel. Guys are owning their routines, he said.
» Ruud said the challenge for NU's linebackers against Michigan will be to stay disciplined with their eyes. The Wolverines use a high volume of formations, personnel groupings and motions to try to trick opponents — “window dressing,” Ruud said.
With such a veteran defense, Nebraska has a strong grasp on what it does and also an awareness of its own weaknesses.
“I was told this once and I believe it," Ruud said. "Good defense is about understanding your own issues. Everything looks good on paper. It’s where are the problems? Our guys that have played a lot of football, now they’re starting to understand the issues of the defense too, which is a big step.”
» Ruud, who is NU’s in-state recruiter, said he has been able to do some evaluating this fall, especially as prospects release their midseason highlight videos. Those highlights are the bulk of what he’s seen so far, with the plan of diving deeper into game film when there’s a break in the season.
» Tight end Chancellor Brewington wasn’t impressed with his own highlights from the Northwestern game. One that especially made the rounds on social media was a crushing block he delivered to help secure an early Nebraska touchdown. The key? Have the will to make the play and don’t slow down.
“It’s really just doing your job,” Brewington said. “People see it as something else. The plays people are seeing on Twitter and stuff, people are just doing their job. We call it doing our 1/11th. That’s all it is.”
After each game this season, The World-Herald's Sam McKewon will hand out his Husker Report Card, assessing Nebraska's performance in several areas. Here are the grades coming out of the Minnesota game.