Nebraska preparing for new Illini defense led by Lovie Smith
LINCOLN — Film study looks a little different this week for Nebraska’s offensive coaches.
It always does when an opponent makes a coordinator change within the season. In this case, Illinois made a move last week when coach Lovie Smith assumed defensive play-calling duties after the resignation of coordinator Hardy Nickerson.
“It was a whole different defense their last game,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “Our guys noticed that and we know we’re gonna have to come ready to go.”
The Illini beat Minnesota 55-31 Saturday, allowing a pair of late touchdowns to the Gopher reserves. The 438 yards allowed were Illinois’ third lowest on the season, and the 6.26 yards per play given up were its second lowest against Big Ten teams this year.
NU quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said the challenge is to parse between what Illinois did specifically for Minnesota and what tendencies might be different with Smith calling the shots. Running backs coach Ryan Held said it can help the passing game that coach Scott Frost is familiar with Smith’s “Tampa 2” system from his own playing days as a defensive back.
“They were a little more aggressive last week in their play-calling,” Held said. “But in terms of scheme and what they do, we know what they’re going to do. It’s just a matter of maybe some of the different down and distances, be prepared for being a little more flexible.”
Held said Nebraska will look at Illinois’ full body of work, then more deeply analyze last week’s game. He expects the team to continue running lots of man coverage.
» Adrian Martinez appears to be improving every week. The true freshman was again among the highest-rated quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus. And as he develops, so too does the offense, Walters said.
“We feel like we can throw anything at these guys and they’ll pick it up,” Walters said. “Now they understand the concepts, they understand why we line up in different formations, why we do certain motions.”
Walters said the offense is “light years” ahead of where it was in the spring, or even early in the season.
“You can tell on Mondays, when we add some new stuff on Mondays and those guys pick it up quickly and the guys just get better as the days go on,” Walters said. “It’s fun when guys know what’s going on because the sky is the limit in terms of what we can throw at them.”
» Verduzco said he wanted to have some “choice words” with Martinez after his lateral fumble against Ohio State, but thought better of it. He said it might be a different story if such a “tragic error” resurfaces next season.
Overall, the coach said, Martinez showed remarkable poise in front of the crowd of 100,000-plus in Columbus.
“When we were talking on the headsets, he was so relaxed I thought maybe there was something wrong with him,” Verduzco said. “I’m serious. I’m like, ‘Adrian, you alright?’ He goes, ‘Coach, I’m fine.’”
» Nebraska won’t host a huge recruiting group for its last home game against Michigan State, Held said. Coaches are still evaluating who they want to bring in that weekend.
“The thing we don’t want to do is bring in 20 guys,” Held said. “You can’t entertain 20 guys on a weekend when we have a huge senior day (and) big game. We want to be able to get these guys, as many as we can, up to see our venue and everything. But also you want to be smart and not put yourself in position where we can’t do a good job.”
» Held said he’s “chomping at the bit” to get out recruiting again, and might do so this week. He had been staying close to home before his wife, Katie, gave birth to their son last week.