Davis’ emphatic sack started with hands and feet, just like everything does for Husker D-line

September 13, 2018

Early in the second quarter Saturday afternoon against Colorado, Steven Montez took a third-and-5 snap and dropped back to pass.

The memorable part of the play, at least for Nebraska fans, is that it finished with an emphatic sack from junior defensive lineman Khalil Davis. Full force, right through Montez’s mid-section. It came just as NU’s pass rush started to heat up, the first of seven sacks, which represented half of the Huskers’ 2017 total.

The hit will be on the highlight reel. The play starts with good hands and good feet from Davis and others.

Davis, working against right guard Tim Lynott, quickly engages and then gets his left hand behind Lynott’s shoulder, allowing him to shove the 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior off-balance. On Montez’s other side, NU sophomore Deontre Thomas uses a powerful two-handed swat to knock down left tackle Josh Kaiser’s hands, keeping Kaiser from engaging him and blowing past him to the outside.

Montez felt Thomas’ pressure and moved up to his right, directly into Davis’ path. Hello, replay-worthy moment. But talk to defensive line coach Mike Dawson, and he’ll tell you that the hands are what started the play. And that they are just about the most important weapon a defensive lineman can have.

“The more violence you can have with your hands, the easier it is to keep your opponent’s hands off of you,” he said Tuesday. “For us, we want to put our hands on the (offensive lineman) in the run game and try to keep his hands off us in the pass game. It’s probably just the opposite for the for the O-line guys. They want to try to do the same thing in reverse.

“For us, you can’t get yourself started if you’re not violent with your footwork and not violent with your hands. That’s probably the baseline for us.”

Much of the offseason talk, especially pertaining to NU’s defensive line group, was about increased weight and power thanks to work with head strength coach Zach Duval and his staff. The payoff was clear on Saturday. But so, too, was the technique work of the group. And that’s Dawson. Consider what senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg said back in July at Big Ten football media days in Chicago about what the group’s summer consisted of.

“The D-linemen probably hate me because we were hitting the sled every single day,” the Gretna native and captain said then. “Striking, striking, striking. That’s what we need to work on first and foremost.

″(Dawson) wants us to hit with tight hands, make sure our center of gravity is low when we’re hitting and striking. That’s his No. 1 thing. It’s the first thing you do every play. No matter what you’re doing, you have to strike your man on.”

Compare that to what Dawson outlined on Tuesday:

“All of the things that we’re asking these guys to do, we’re trying to coach it all the time,” he said. “For me, I want them to strike and violent hands, so that’s what we do from the beginning of practice to the end of practice.

“You’ve got to be great with your eyes, you’ve got to be great with your hands, you’ve got to be great with your feet. Probably in that order. If you’re seeing where you’re going and you’re striking and you’re violent with your hands in the run game and the pass game and your feet are active and violent, you have a chance to have a successful play. If you stop on any of those three things … any one of those three things it’s probably going to work the other way and be a bad play.”

So the next time you see a Davis or a Thomas or a Stoltenberg smash into a quarterback or running back behind the line of scrimmage, watch the replay. It will almost assuredly start with the hands and feet, just like it did every day this summer and just like it does every day in practice.

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