Is Husker Youth Movement on Defense a Panic Response?

A poor tackling performance against UCLA is spurring changes on Nebraska's depth chart.Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

At Monday's practice, linebackers David Santos and Zaire Anderson worked with the first team defense at WILL linebacker, apparently supplanting Alonzo Whaley. on the depth chart. After Saturday's defensive debacle, you had to expect some changes to be made. But is this a panic response, as Steven M. Sipple of the Journal-Star suggests?

I don't, though I understand why some might feel that way. I see this as less of a dismissing of the evaluation as much as dismissing the way the evaluation was conducted. The reasons Whaley graded out ahead of Santos and Anderson may simply not meaned as much on Sunday as they did in August when the depth chart was first set.

Is it a panic response, though? I don't see that; I don't see redshirts being burned. What I do see is a reaction to a hard truth that evidenced itself against UCLA. Up front, Nebraska executed poorly and was dominated. At times, Nebraska was OK on defense. Seven tackles for loss actually isn't that bad. What was bad was the number of missed tackles; Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald counted 19 of them which resulted in 172 yards of offense. That was a problem that compounded itself as it kept drives alive, allowing UCLA to churn out even more yards and, as a result, more points.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? When players don't play well, you look to see if there are others who could play better. If Whaley earned his position because of his experience and physical strength; those attributes don't seem quite as valuable when viewed on the Fox game video. He may have been in the right position, but didn't make the tackle. Sometimes looking silly trying, as well. And his experience didn't help him do the right things.

Yeah, I'm picking on Whaley in this situation. Others on the defense are just as guilty; Whaley is just one example. Santos bring speed and perhaps more talent to the situation. They may not quite understand what they are doing at all times, and may make mistakes in key positions. But framed in the viewpoint from Saturday night, that may not be as big of a disadvantage. And if you start playing the inexperienced players, they start to learn from their mistakes...and maybe not make as many in October when Nebraska has to travel to Columbus.

In Lavonte David's first game, he made lots of plays and impressed fans with his statistics. Bo Pelini looked at the game and saw all the little things David did wrong; eventually, he learned from his mistakes and went on to be the playmaker on defense. David was forced to play after injuries knocked Will Compton and Sean Fisher off the field. Santos and Anderson are getting their opportunity because Nebraska struggled against UCLA.

It's a calculated risk. Bo Pelini is choosing to take the risk of a young player being out of position or reading a play wrong over the risk of having a slower and stronger player on the field unable to make the play. In August, Pelini chose strength and experience hoping that would give the defense the edge. Now that conclusion has been called into question, and Pelini is trying something different.

We'll see other youngsters increasing playing time this week: Aaron Curry and Avery Moss will join Kevin Williams as freshmen playing on the defensive line. Juco Mohammed Seisay will see more time in the secondary. Nebraska is looking more at potential playmakers than experience at this point.

Anybody who's worked in the corporate world knows that at times, the rules change. Right or wrong, situations change and what was valued before isn't valued now. It's bad news for Whaley, but the risk of not changing is much worse for the team as a whole. So now Nebraska takes a step back and regroups and takes the plunge with a youth movement.

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