Huskers’ defense is looking to get right against N. Illinois
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle is confident better days are ahead for the Nebraska defense.
The Cornhuskers couldn’t have been much worse in their first two games. They allowed a combined 1,063 yards to Arkansas State and Oregon and this week rank 119th in scoring defense, 123rd in total defense and 129th against the pass.
They did shut out Oregon in the second half of last week’s 42-35 loss, and even though the Ducks’ offense went conservative after building a big halftime lead, the Cornhuskers (1-1) believe they have something to build on when Northern Illinois (1-1) visits Saturday.
”I feel as a defense we’re going to be fine,” Bootle told reporters. ”You guys might go ahead and be critical to every little thing. Together we’re working together, we stand together, we’re going to ride this thing out and just keep pushing, trying to bring the state of Nebraska what it’s been longing for.”
The Huskers are looking for a complete performance in their last game before starting Big Ten play. The Huskies of the Mid-American Conference lost their opener 23-20 to Boston College when a last-minute field goal hit the crossbar and dropped short. Last week they beat FCS Eastern Illinois 38-10 with quarterback Daniel Santacaterina starting in place of the injured Ryan Graham. Santacaterina will start again as Graham recovers from a right elbow sprain.
”We will see a third version of what we’ve been seeing,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said.
The Huskies have shown more spread tendencies after playing a pro-style offense in 2016. Riley said his defense will see receiver D.J. Brown running fly sweeps, quarterback runs, perimeter screens and quick throws to wide receivers if cornerbacks give them a cushion.
Northern Illinois has won three of four against the Big Ten under coach Rod Carey, having beaten Iowa and Purdue in 2013 and Purdue in 2014 and losing 20-13 at then-No. 1 Ohio State as a five-touchdown underdog in 2015.
Nebraska is 5-0 all-time against the MAC, and the Big Ten is 280-51-2, according to the sports records website mcubed.net. With the conferences sharing the same geographic footprint traditionally, Carey said, there always is extra motivation for the MAC team in these matchups.
”A lot of the guys on all of our teams in the MAC were probably at one point told `no’ by Big Ten teams,” Carey said. ”That’s a natural thing. We went through that last week with Eastern Illinois. A lot of guys on that team we said `no’ to.”
The Huskies come to Lincoln as 14-point underdogs and with a belief they can win.
”When we talk about this big separation between Power Five and Group of Five – I should say autonomous five and non-autonomous five – certainly the money pouring in is probably different. But there are still 85 scholarships a team,” Carey said. ”It’s not like the old days where Michigan in the late ’70s and early ’80s took everybody so nobody else had a player. I think we all have good players.”
Some things to know as the Huskers try to finish nonconference play with a winning record for the 36th time in 37 seasons:
2 HUSKER STARTERS OUT
Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon will make his first career start in place of Tre Bryant (knee), and Antonio Reed will start at safety in place of Joshua Kalu (hamstring). Bryant averaged 149.5 yards in the first two games.
Stanley Morgan is in position to join Maurice Purify (2007) as the only Nebraska players to have 100 yards in receptions in three straight games. Morgan set career highs with seven catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon. He’s fourth in the Big Ten at 102.5 yards a game.
This will be the first game of a four-game series between the schools. Northern Illinois also will visit Lincoln in 2019, 2021 and 2023. The teams also played in 1989 and `90, with Nebraska winning both.
Carey said one of the biggest challenges for his team will be acclimating to the environment at 85,000-seat Memorial Stadium. He said he planned to have his defensive line coach, Brett Diersen, prep the team and coaching staff. Diersen was a Nebraska coaching intern under Bo Pelini from 2008-10.
HALL OF FAME
Four former Huskers will be inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame before kickoff. The inductees are rush end Chad Kelsay (1995-98), offensive lineman Donnie McGhee (1968-70), quarterback Zac Taylor (2005-06) and offensive lineman Randy Theiss (1980-82). Brad Ottis, a defensive end for Division II Wayne State from 1990-93, also will be inducted.
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