LINCOLN — It's been two seasons since coach Bo Pelini's had confidence in a Nebraska defensive line to generate a pass rush on its own.
But two days after watching the Huskers' front four disrupt Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase just enough, Pelini praised the D-line for its ability to collapse the pocket without help, a trait necessary for his system to reach its full potential.
“I feel that we're at the position where I don't always have to blitz to get pressure — probably more so than we have in the last couple years,” Pelini said. “We have some more options because our guys up front give us some juice to get home.”
That's coming from a self-admitted blitzing addict. Pelini said Monday that he wishes he could send extra defensive backs and linebackers sprinting toward the quarterback every play.
It's not tactically feasible, though. Nebraska needs its four down linemen to create some havoc on their own.
Sacks and tackles for loss are preferable. But NU's coaches will settle for what occurred quite often in Saturday's win against Illinois: a quarterback who threw without setting his feet or with his shoulders turned awkwardly, perhaps too quick to bail after the peak of his dropback because he was unable to get comfortable surveying the field.
“We did a good job of getting in his face,” sophomore defensive end Randy Gregory said.
It's exactly the standard he and his teammates hope to carry through league play. The Huskers will face a freshman quarterback, Danny Etling, at Purdue Saturday. After a bye week, they'll travel to Minnesota, which just started redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner Saturday.
The inexperience just makes it more “fun” for the Huskers up front, Gregory said. Young quarterbacks always seem more susceptible to losing their poise against an effective pass rush.
“Hopefully we can rattle (Etling) a little bit, hit him a few times, shake him up a little bit so he won't be as comfortable in the pocket,” Gregory said.
The key is not to overthink things. That's what defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski preaches.
He revealed his key to great pass-rushing during an interview last week: “want-to.”
That's why Kaczenski shows his players game cut-ups of NFL greats. John Randle. Lawrence Taylor. Reggie White. So many sacks are a result of defensive linemen outworking their blockers, Kaczenski said.
“You really never get home — unless a guy stinks — with your first move,” Kaczenski said. “It's countering, staying moving, staying alive.”
In the past, though, a quarterback with running ability has limited that kind of aggressiveness from Nebraska's defensive line. Fearing the scramble or the draw, they'd play tentative.
They found a balance Saturday against Scheelhaase.
Illinois' quarterback ran for 11 yards on nine carries. He was sacked three times. NU recorded six QB hurries.
“I thought we were able to get some pass rush but at the same time keep our rush lanes where we didn't give that guy a lot of chances to get out,” Pelini said.
It ended up making his blitz calls even more lethal. “I think you have to have a good mix,” he said.
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Video: Nebraska's Monday press conference