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Purdue quarterback Blough, scheme impress Husker defensive coaches

September 27, 2018

LINCOLN — When Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander watches film of opposing quarterbacks, he looks to see if they can make the “real guy” throw.

That’s a 20-yard out from the opposite hash to the wide side of the field. Real guys have the arm strength and the accuracy to make the defense respect the whole field. Purdue’s David Blough, Chinander said, is a real guy.

“I think he’s an exceptional passer,” Chinander said of Blough, who has thrown for 868 yards and six touchdowns in his past two games. Nebraska’s man-to-man coverage will have to be tight and zone coverage will have to sublime to slow one of the Big Ten’s hottest quarterbacks.

NU defensive backs coach Travis Fisher said Blough, a senior facing NU for the fourth time, is the best quarterback the Huskers have played this season. Chinander said Blough operates in one of the nation’s best spread offenses, installed by coach Jeff Brohm.

Chinander became impressed with Brohm’s system when watching film of Western Kentucky, Brohm’s previous stop.

“Everybody in the Big Ten’s got a certain deal, right? Michigan, Wisconsin and some of those other teams are going to pound you — and they’re really good at that — but I think these guys are as good at the spread system as any team in the country.”

Love of the game

NU’s first matchup with a power-based, pro-style offense didn’t go so well at Michigan. NU allowed 491 yards and 6.5 yards per play. Chinander said he didn’t care why Nebraska’s defense failed to follow through on its assignments in Ann Arbor — “it’s all the same to me” — but didn’t think Michigan’s offense physically dominated Nebraska’s front seven.

“I don’t feel like it was David and Goliath or anything like that,” Chinander said. “I thought the guys played hard when they were in the right fits and were executing. We could hold our own, but, obviously, we have a ways to go in strength and conditioning.”

Nebraska also needs more guys, Chinander said, who love football as much as inside linebacker Mohamed Barry does. Barry made mistakes against Michigan, Chinander said, but in part made up for them through his sheer effort.

“We need 11 guys out there who love football. We need 22 guys out there who love football,” Chinander said. “Eventually we need 105 guys who love to play football, period. Whether it’s out in the rain on Tuesday or it’s in the Big House or it’s in Memorial Stadium, doesn’t matter. They love football. Practice, games, whatever. That’s what (Barry) does.”

Chinander said he’d rather take the “guy who loves football and is a great person” over the better athlete.

“We don’t need any more guys that are walking the line all the time, that we’ve got to hold their hand,” Chinander said. “We don’t need guys who maybe love football. We don’t need those guys who play football but you ask them, ‘Hey, did you watch that NFL game last night or did you watch the Oregon-Stanford game?’ and they’re like, ‘Nah, I don’t really watch football.’ I don’t want those guys anymore. I want guys that love football. Their life revolves around football. They’ve got to do academics, they’ve got to be good in the community, but I want guys that love football, period.”

In Fisher’s defensive backs room, he said, 80 percent of his players didn’t love football when he took the job. Right now?

“I don’t think I have a guy in that room who doesn’t like football,” Fisher said.

NU’s defensive backs, Chinander said, had good moments against Michigan’s receivers but needed to win more one-on-one matchups and create more interceptions.

“When the ball goes in the air, you’re in a fistfight with that receiver,” Chinander said. “There’s really not a lot of offensive pass interference being called right now, and that’s not going to change. So we need to go attack the football. We need to take the football away, and we need to get some more of those balls that are in the air.”

Lightbourn’s target

The results are usually there for Caleb Lightbourn in practice.

Nebraska’s junior punter admits that he’s never been a great directional punter. But he’s been far better within the private confines of the Hawks Center than through three games this season.

“I’m just taking it even more seriously every day,” Lightbourn said. “I’m just trying to get better. Just trying to get it outside the numbers every single time on every single rep with as much hang time as I can. That’s the best way to help the team and that’s the best way to reduce returns.”

The right hash in particular has given the punter problems. On punts that Troy and Michigan returned for touchdowns, the ball sailed much closer to the middle of the field than Lightbourn intended.

Though he is more responsible for his own coaching than last year — when defensive coordinator Bob Diaco worked closely with him — he said he recognizes the problems when they happen. Lately, the ball has been landing more toward the inside part of his foot than he wants.

Nebraska ranks 108th among 130 teams nationally in net punting yards per game (34.06), in large part because of the two returns for scores.

Special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said the problems are more about overall competitiveness on the unit than where Lightbourn sends a ball on any one play.

“I think anytime you start to make an excuse where the ball is being placed, you’re starting to lean yourself toward making the same mistakes over and over again,” Dewitt said.

Quick hits

» Defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg did not practice Tuesday. He had a wrap on one knee and was on crutches. Andre Hunt and David Alston also did not practice. Running back Maurice Washington has not practiced the past two days because of a virus.

» Fisher had high praise for freshman cornerback Cam Taylor of Montgomery, Alabama, who played “balls out” Saturday.

“I was surprised he didn’t get a targeting penalty,” Fisher said. “He was flying to the ball, trying to make serious impact.”

» Fisher said safety Deontai Williams, a sophomore from Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, is “definitely earning himself more and more reps” with his play, including the two-tackle, one-interception effort against Michigan.

» Freshman cornerback Braxton Clark of Orlando, Florida, tasted his first game action Saturday, and Fisher said he is among players coaches will monitor as they balance playing time with the new NCAA rule that allows a player to appear in up to four games while preserving his redshirt status.

“He’s learning so much when he’s not in the game,” Fisher said. “But it’s still totally different when you get in the game.”

» Barry said he challenged the team before Tuesday’s practice to perform with more intensity than it has shown later in the past few weeks of workouts. He called it an “ultimatum,” adding that the mental effort on Wednesdays and Thursdays — which usually means film study — needs to improve.

“Everyone could do a better job of that,” Barry said, “and I have to do a way better job of that, too.”

» Junior Chase Urbach did the long snapping Saturday against the Wolverines. Dewitt said the regular snapper, senior Jordan Ober, had a “small tweak” in his knee and was unavailable. It was something of a homecoming for Urbach, who is from Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

“In terms of what we were looking for, we needed somebody that could show that they could cover a little bit better,” Dewitt said.

Dewitt called the week a “ball-buster” for the maligned special teams, which have allowed a pair of punt-return touchdowns while getting next to nothing from their own kickoff and punt returns.

Dewitt said Nebraska will shuffle personnel until players compete daily with a “desire to excel” and not to simply do their job.

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