Wednesday notebook: Huskers have experience vs. 'Tampa 2' defense
When Illinois comes to Lincoln on Saturday, there is going to be some good familiarity on the Husker coaching staff with Lovie Smith and his defensive scheme.
Particularly with head coach Scott Frost, who played in the same Tampa 2 defense in 2003 with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Monte Kiffin, and later coached the scheme at Kansas State with future Bucs head coach Raheem Morris in 2006.
Smith also worked under Kiffin and learned his scheme, before eventually becoming a defensive coordinator and head coach at the NFL level for several seasons.
This week will obviously be different though, as Smith parted ways with his defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson before this past Saturday’s Minnesota game. However, Smith has always been a hands-on head coach with his defense.
“There’s something different,” Frost said. “You can tell it’s obviously in the same scheme. I finished my career in Tampa. Hardy was a legend down there, got a ton of respect for him and Lovie. I’m familiar enough from those days back then with how that defense works to kind of recognize things.
"There’s some differences, but I don’t know how much of that difference was just a game planning thing for that team and how much is going to carry over. We have to be prepared for what they did Saturday and what they did the rest of the season before that.”
Running backs coach Ryan Held said they would obviously study last week’s game hard, along with the rest of Illinois’s games this season.
“We’ll look at the whole body of work, but then we’ll take into account last week into some of the statistical analysis,” Held said. “They were a little more aggressive last week in their play calling. In terms of scheme and what they do, we know what they are going to do, it’s just a matter of maybe some of the difference down and distances and being prepared to be a little more flexible.
“They’ll have a new wrinkle for us probably like they’ve had all year, so we’ll have to be ready to adjust on that. They are going to be in man and they are going to be in cover 2 and some quarters. We are going to have to win our man stuff and be able to execute in those critical down situations to keep drives going and get these plays we need.”
And after getting a big win last week, quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco is expecting a good fight from the Illini on Saturday.
“They are going to play hard, I know that,” Verduzco said. “They played hard last week, and I think they are probably playing with some confidence now. We just have to make sure we are ready to go.”
- Sean Callahan
Freshman Jones undergoes season-ending shoulder surgery
After finally making his Nebraska debut two weeks ago in the win over Bethune-Cookman, true freshman running back Miles Jones’ season is officially over after undergoing shoulder surgery.
The former four-star recruit out of Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage rushed just one time for five yards and caught a 21-yard pass in his first and only action as a Husker vs. BCU.
Offensive coordinator Troy Walters said the decision for Jones to have season-ending surgery was made in the best interest of the future and making sure he would be healthy for spring ball.
“Miles Jones had surgery, so he’s out,” Walters said. “We wanted to make sure that he’d be back for spring, so he had shoulder surgery. We’ve got to get him healthy and ready to go.”
Held said Jones probably could have played through the injury if necessary, but the staff was too excited about his potential to risk any further unnecessary setbacks.
"At the end of the day, we’re looking kind of more long-term with him," Held said. "He could have probably finished out, but the smart move probably is to get him fixed so he can go through spring ball. At the end of the day, the goal was to redshirt him. It would have been nice to play a couple more games, but I think when you look big picture, we’ve got to get him fixed now so he can be progressing and hopefully be ready to do some things in spring ball that we can continue in his development.
"He got a lot out of this fall even though he didn’t many reps. You saw on the one bubble pass, he’s a kid that can run. He’s a guy that can help us down the road. He’s a great kid and we think he’s got a big future with us."
- Robin Washut
Williams knows his time will come
As wide receiver Mike Williams sizes up his first year at Nebraska, there have been some ups and downs, but overall, he’s really grown this season.
As much as anything, his blocking continues to be a point of emphasis for improvement.
“Before I got here, (blocking) was emphasized, but it wasn’t a big part of the offense when I was in high school or JUCO,” Williams said. “Here, if you want the ball, you have to block. No block, no rock.”
As Williams looks ahead, he knows that his time will come in the offense, especially knowing Stanley Morgan is done after this season.
Williams hopes to use these final three games as an opportunity to keep building on his future in the program.
“It’s definitely an opportunity to build on what’s to come next year,” Williams said. “I want the best for these seniors, so I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win and build on next year."
Walters said the competition for Nebraska's No. 3 wide receiver spot remains up for grabs, but added that Williams was right in the thick of the competition.
“I tell all our guys, you practice how you play,” Walters said. “We take practice seriously, I grade every practice and post those grades in our meeting room for guys to see. We had Bryan Reimers make a play last game; Mike Williams made plays; Kade Warner, we moved him around.
"We need to find that No. 3 guy, but I think collectively between Mike, Bryan and Kade, when their numbers have been called, they’ve been stepping up and making plays.”
- Sean Callahan
Walters sees 'big change' in Illinois defense under Smith
On Monday, head coach Scott Frost said he didn’t think there would be much of a change to Illinois’ defense despite defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson being let go prior to last week’s game vs. Minnesota.
After having a few days to watch film of the Fighting Illini’s dominating 55-31 rout of the Golden Gophers, Walters said UI defense took on a much different look with head coach Lovie Smith taking over the unit.
Illinois still gave up 31 points and 438 yards of total offense in the win, but it also recovered two fumbles, had three sacks, and held Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan to 26.9 rating.
“A big change,” Walters said. “They’re playing kind of like Tampa (Bay Buccaneers) and Chicago (Bears) in the NFL with Lovie: disciplined. They don’t do a whole lot, but they do, they do well. Playing with a lot of passion, enthusiasm.
“You know, it was a whole different defense their last game. Our guys noticed that, and we know we’re going to have to come ready to go.”
- Robin Washut
***Walters said the improvement made by freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez and the entire offense as a whole has allowed the staff to really open up the playbook compared to earlier in the season.
***Running backs coach Ryan Held said the staff would have to be careful with NU’s final home game vs. Michigan State in two weeks when it comes to hosting recruiting visitors. With that being Senior Day, Held said the coaches don’t want to over-extend themselves with too many visitors because they might not be able to give all of them their full attention.
***Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said they’ve been working on giving QB Adrian Martinez snaps under center in practice, and they feel a lot better about putting him up on the line on fourth-and-shorts, which showed at Ohio State.
***Verduzco said he was obviously upset with Martinez’s backward pass for a fumble vs. Ohio State, but he didn’t feel like he had to say much to Martinez because the QB was already so mad at himself. If he makes that mistake next season, Verduzco said it would be a different story.
***Offensive line coach Greg Austin said his group made a lot of in-game adjustments at Ohio State, and for the coaches, it was a fun game of chess with OSU’s staff. Austin said the o-line would not have been able to handle that many changes during a game earlier this season, which was a credit to how far the group has come.