LINCOLN — The top rusher in the Football Championship Subdivision is coming to Memorial Stadium, and he won't be underestimated by Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis.
Zach Zenner, listed at 6-foot, 220 pounds, averaged more yards per game (157.2) than any other FCS back last season, and he leads the division again this year (180 yards per game). The junior from Eagan, Minn., tied his own school record two weeks ago by totaling 295 yards on the ground.
Papuchis said Zenner runs with a mix of agility and power.
“(He's) able to make guys miss in short space, in the hole, but also has the ability to put his shoulder down and run you over,” Papuchis said. “I think our guys understand that.”
A rarity: Huskers playing base defense
Papuchis said Nebraska's practicing this week with three-linebacker formations for the first time since preseason camp.
South Dakota State runs much of its offense with two tight ends on the field. So NU's likely response would be to play three linebackers.
That wasn't the case against the spread offenses the Huskers faced during the first three weeks.
“We've installed a whole base defensive package that we haven't been able to look at (since August),” Papuchis said.
At least through Tuesday, the three first-stringers at linebacker were freshman Josh Banderas at Mike (middle), junior Zaire Anderson at Will (most often on the weakside) and freshman Nate Gerry at Buck (strongside). working with the second team were sophomore David Santos (Mike), redshirt freshman Michael Rose (Will) and redshirt freshman Jared Afalava (Buck).
“We're still going to play a bunch of guys,” Papuchis said.
Papuchis' postmortem on defeat to Bruins
Similar to coach Bo Pelini's takeaway of Nebraska's collapse against UCLA, Papuchis said he saw his players lose their confidence as the Bruins began to take control Saturday.
And that was frustrating to see, Papuchis said.
“I thought in the first half we did play with a lot of bounce, a lot of energy, a lot of emotion,” he said. “And then the second things started going downhill a little bit — the second they made it 21-17 — you could see that confidence drain from our guys a little bit.”
As Pelini noted Monday, the coaching staff is trying new approaches to change the team's mentality, Papuchis said. He declined to reveal specifics.