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Making Sense of the Defensive Struggles

To be sure, every Husker fan is disappointed with the struggles of the Nebraska defense this season.  Not necessarily surprised, as Nebraska's defense was one of the worst in college football last season.  But most fans expected improvement with the return of Bo Pelini, as it would be difficult to be much worse than 2007.  Improvement seemed likely due to Kevin Cosgrove's pedestrian schemes and Pelini's penchant for scheming a good defense.

Well, we're halfway through 2008, and Nebraska's defense is a little better than 2007.  But certainly not as improved as Husker fans would like.  Bo Pelini shares that opinion, telling the Denver Post last month that "It's coming slower than I thought."

I don't doubt Pelini's resume here; all you have to do is look at what has happened to LSU's defense since he left.  Last year:  arguably the best defense in the country; this year:  ninth in the SEC in most defensive statistics.

So what's the deal?  Even more curious is some of the players who have been on the field this season: guys like converted I-back Cody Glenn at linebacker, senior walk-on Matt O'Hanlon at safety.  On Saturday against the explosive Texas Tech offense, add in redshirt freshman Lance Thorell and true freshman Matt Holt, both walk-ons, to the starting lineup.

Yeah, injuries to Rickey Thenarse, Phillip Dillard, and Cody Glenn have forced Pelini's to dip into the reserves, but just what is going on here?  Is that the best we've got?

Believe it or not, it might be.  Sure, we've got guys oozing stars from their recruiting rankings, with highlight tapes to drool over.  But it hasn't manifested itself on the field yet.  Blankman's frustrated by it as well.

Yesterday, we got a sense of what the problem might just be with some rather frank comments by secondary coach Marvin Sanders: 

"Those are two young men that have the talent to help us win, but they have to really commit to the scheme," Sanders said. "I think Major's probably a little further along than Prince is. But Prince is a tremendous athlete and I think now he realizes and has that desire."

I don't think it's that the defense is too complex.  It's hard to believe that Cody Glenn could switch from I-back to starting linebacker in the middle of spring practice if that was the case.  In fact, the idea that true freshman Matt Holt could start makes that seem rather silly.

We know that these guys are tremendous athletes...but what is it that is keeping these guys off the field.  Is it effort?  Is it commitment?  Or is it something else?

I don't think Pelini or his coaches want to throw these players under the bus.  But something's not quite right, and reading between the lines, I'm starting to see something.