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September 6, 2008While some may be looking at Nebraska's next two games as cupcake enough to validate selling their tickets and spending their Saturday golfing instead, defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders sure isn't.
Though the prospects of the Huskers' upcoming contests against San Jose State and New Mexico State don't exactly strike up the same excitement as say, Virginia Tech, Sanders and the rest of NU's coaching staff are looking at them as opportunities.
Both teams will come to Memorial Stadium boasting wide-open passing attacks that will put pressure on Nebraska's secondary from start to finish. Playing in a Big 12 Conference that features some of the best aerial assaults in the country with the likes of Texas Tech and Missouri, the Huskers see these early games as valuable challenges before the conference season gets underway.
"Everybody said, 'Wow, this first team (Western Michigan) threw 50 passes on you,'" Sanders said. "Well, they may be a few shorter than these next few teams we face. It's a challenge for us, and I hope they look at it as that. We've got two pretty good receivers coming in with some good quarterbacks, so it'll be a challenge for them. But they'll learn, and hopefully you'll see them getting better every week."
As Sanders noted, the Huskers already faced a pass-heavy offensive attack last week against the Broncos. For many, their performance against it left much to be desired, as WMU put up nearly 350 yards and two touchdowns while completing 30-of-49 passes.
These next two weeks, including today's game against San Jose State, the Huskers expect to only see more of the same, as both the Spartans and New Mexico State feature spread-out offensive schemes that will test Nebraska's young defensive backs from the opening snap.
Today, San Jose State comes to town featuring two standout senior receivers in Kevin Jurovich and David Richmond and junior quarterback Kyle Reed, a transfer from California. Last season, Jurovich and Richmond combined for 140 receptions for 2,035 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Reed takes over the starting spot after being the third SJSU quarterback to see action in last week's 13-10 win over UC-Davis. In his time under center, Reed completed 14 of his 18 passes (77.8 percent) and threw both of the Spartans touchdowns, including a 17-yard score to Jurovich with 8 seconds left in the game.
"They're going to be a wide-open team," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "When I look at them, they're going to be good preparation for us as we head into the Big 12. They're spread offense. They run the ball well out of the spread and they've got a decent passing game to go with it."
Going against these types of offenses not only prepares Nebraska's secondary well, it also benefits the entire defense.
For the linebackers, it gives them a chance to gain experience in covering faster receivers and also helps prepare them for defending the run out of passing formations. San Jose State has already said it wants to run the football against the Huskers, and the majority of its running game will be based out of the spread formation, much like most teams in the Big 12.
"I think it's great just to get us prepared for that," senior linebacker Cody Glenn said. "We can run a couple different game plans against these other teams and just kind of see what works best for when we do play those teams (Missouri, Texas Tech). It's good for us to do it now and just kind of get that under our belt and on the same page. That way we limit the mistakes when we play those teams."
The same can be said for the defensive line. For them, they'll gain experience facing offensive lines that are spread further apart in order to better protect against the pass rush. As the offensive line spreads out, so does the defensive line in order to maintain its gap responsibilities.
"It prepares us very well," junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "From what I'm hearing they're more of a spread offense and they'll spread us out a little more and like to throw it around. Definitely with Texas Tech, they're a straight spread offense. They run to keep you honest, and that's how Missouri is too. Not looking ahead, this is definitely a good test to see how we react and what we have planned for spread offenses."
Still, there's no question that the Huskers' young secondary will be the ones shouldering the load during the next couple weeks. Last week, three defensive backs made their first collegiate starts, while another played in his first game on defense.
This week, Sanders said he expects a marked improvement in the secondary's overall play. Like the old saying, practice will hopefully make perfect eventually, and the Huskers should certainly get all the practice against the pass they can handle.
"Once that whistle blows, that ball's kicked, it's kind of out of my control," Sanders said. "What I have to do is look myself in the mirror every day and see if I've done the best job that I can to get these men prepared."