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Coordinators split on short week of prep; The Hawkeye challenge

November 22, 2018

LINCOLN — Consider Nebraska’s coordinators split on their opinions about shorter practice weeks.

With the Huskers set to face Iowa on Black Friday, offensive coordinator Troy Walters said Tuesday that the condensed schedule doesn’t much hurt an offense that knows what it’s doing — plus game day is that much closer. Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander would rather have that extra time.

“I hate the shorter weeks because I love practice,” Chinander said. “The guys love the games; I like the game, too, but Saturday is for the boys. ... When we miss a day, I don’t like that very much.”

Defensive line coach Mike Dawson said Nebraska is piecing its new schedule together by working backward from the game. Sunday was a combination of Sunday and Monday. Monday was a blend of Monday and Tuesday.

“Today, in our little world, was a Wednesday,” Dawson said. “We kind of are on track, on schedule now. Just been a little less sleep while we (coaches) get our preparation in. Didn’t change the schedules for the guys too much, though.”

Wednesday will be a walk-through leading up to the 11 a.m. kickoff Friday in Iowa City.

The Hawkeye challenge

Scott Frost and players said Monday that the transition from Michigan State to Iowa isn’t too drastic. Coaches echoed those sentiments Tuesday, though more film study has brought out some differences.

For one thing, NU offensive line coach Greg Austin said, Iowa’s defensive line is taller than Michigan State’s. The Huskers will have to counter with better leverage. Walters sees a stout front full of 6-foot-6 and 6-7 frames in a unit that usually likes to bring just four rushers and let its secondary make plays.

“They don’t do a lot,” Walters said. “But what they do, they do well. They play together.”

Michigan State and Iowa’s defensive lines are equally good, Austin said, but they’re good in different ways.

The Spartans had thick, strong gap penetrators, Austin said. Iowa’s taller defensive linemen like to use their length to control the offensive line.

“They do a good job of shedding blocks and using their hands,” Austin said. “So we have to do a good job of using our hands and using our hip leverage and everything else to get up underneath these guys,” Austin said.

Austin smacked his palm with his fist. That was Michigan State’s defensive line.

“(Iowa) is going to be a fistfight but it’s more like, ‘You’ve got to get your leverage,’” Austin said. “Leverage, leverage, leverage.”

Chinander said Iowa tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson present a unique challenge with their ability to be dominant blockers as well as impact receivers. Dawson said the Hawkeyes’ offensive line works better in unison than any team he’s prepared for this season.

“We love our game plan,” running backs coach Ryan Held said. “Today was a really good practice. Our guys are dialed in and I think we’ve got some momentum going right now.”

Heart rate gets a kick

During games, special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt keeps track of his heart rate on an Apple watch. When NU kicker Barret Pickering hit the winning field goal in Saturday’s 9-6 win over Michigan State, Dewitt took a screenshot of his heart rate at that moment.

“It was about 135, 140,” Dewitt said. “It was pretty high. But it was a good feeling.”

One of Nebraska’s best special teams players, junior linebacker Jacob Weinmaster, was hurt for the Michigan State game, Dewitt said, as were a few other players Dewitt wanted to use on special teams. That made Dewitt nervous, too — his heart rate, he said, was at 128 beats per minute any time Nebraska lined up to kick off or receive a kickoff.

“That was not good,” he said.

Better than the record shows

Iowa is 7-4 this season, but Frost says the Hawkeyes are better on tape than that.

“They’ve got a defense that statistically — and watching them — it’s about as good as there is out there,” Frost said on the Big Ten teleconference. Iowa’s offense is “really multiple” in the way it attacks a defense.

Frost said Fant and Hockenson are the best tight ends he’s seen on tape this season.

“You have to look out for a lot of people’s running backs, quarterbacks and receivers, but there’s not too many teams you face where you’re game-planning for and having to worry so much about tight ends,” Frost said. “But the two guys they’ve got are as good I’ve seen.”

QB evaluation shows positives

Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco had to set Adrian Martinez straight.

Martinez didn’t play as badly as he thought against Michigan State.

Sure, Martinez completed just 16 of 37 passes and fumbled twice, but Verduzco encouraged Martinez to consider the conditions and the quality of the defense he faced.

“It was a weird emotion, because he was excited that the team won, but he just felt like he didn’t play well,” Verduzco said. “I had to bring him back to reality and say, ‘There aren’t very many quarterbacks who can play well in that sort of environment when you’re that young.’”

Verduzco gave Martinez his evaluation on Sunday and the quarterback felt much better.

Verduzco said Martinez has become more comfortable in the offense because he’s “picking up on more clues in his environment” — things that Martinez might not consciously recognize.

Iowa’s defense, Verduzco said, will provide a stiff test for Martinez and NU’s offense.

“They’re good, man,” Verduzco said. “They do a great job. They’re a lot like Michigan State in a lot of ways in terms of their discipline, their approach to things.”

When Verduzco was at Northern Iowa, the Panthers played Iowa three times. Iowa’s defense is more diverse, “with different tools in the toolbox” today.

Quick hits

» Sophomore receiver JD Spielman remains “limited” in practice, Walters said, and his status for Friday remains unclear after missing a game for the first time this season.

“We’ll just wait and see,” Walters said. “He’s day to day. Hoping to have him. But if we don’t, we’ll go with the same guys we played against Michigan State.”

» Redshirt freshman Damion Daniels played his best game of the year Saturday, said Dawson, the defensive line coach. The 6-2, 340-pound nose tackle recorded one tackle and a fumble recovery against Michigan State.

“Probably lines up well with the way he’s been training,” Dawson said. “He’s improved week to week, so I think it’s probably not a mistake that here at the end he’s playing a little bit better.”

» Defensive lineman Peyton Newell announced on social media that he received a Blackshirt. The senior from Hiawatha, Kansas, has played in every game this season and owns five tackles and an interception.

» Nebraska coaches are all bracing for a big recruiting push beginning Sunday that will extend to the Dec. 19 early signing period. Multiple assistants said the first priority will be to visit current commits before finishing out the 2019 class and delving into 2020.

There are 21 known commits in the 2019 group, with the final total likely to land between 25 and 30.

» Senior center Tanner Farmer was Nebraska’s offensive lineman of the week, Austin said, largely because of how frequently he finished blocks against MSU. Austin called it Farmer’s best game as a Husker.

“You go back and watch that game, he did a damn good job,” Austin said, adding that he didn’t see that level of leadership in Farmer earlier in the season.

Austin also said Farmer scared him with the high snap on Nebraska’s final kneel-down Saturday.

“I was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’” Austin said. “He was like, ‘I told Adrian to go underneath and I was thinking about it too much.’ I’m like, ‘Ugh, Tanner, don’t make a good thing bad.’ Golly. That would have been the worst thing ever. We can laugh about it now, but my heart skipped a beat.”

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