The 2021 Husker defense was a pleasant surprise. That side of the ball played larger than the sum of its parts, especially considering there was no alpha pass rusher. All season long, the defense kept Nebraska within striking distance, only to have the offense commit penalties, turnovers, or both and come up short.
Tackles: Luke Reimer (108), Nick Henrich (99)
Sacks: Garrett Nelson (5)
Interceptions: Luke Reimer (1)
Forced Fumbles: Luke Reimer (3)
Pass Breakups: Luke Reimer (6), Quinton Newsome (4)
Returning DL starts: Not many. Ty Robinson (4)
Okay, I’m seeing a pattern when it comes to names that stand out...
Defensive line coach Tony Tuioti left the Huskers for Oregon. Outside linebackers coach Mike Dawson (who was the first DL coach Scott Frost employed when he came to Nebraska) is now taking on both groups. There should be a fair bit of familiarity between Dawson and the players already. This change made room for a full-time special teams coordinator, Bill Busch.
Knowns and Unknowns for 2022
In retrospect, we should not have been surprised that the defense was so solid in 2021. That unit was filled with super seniors and had a lot of experienced players at each level. 2022 is going to look very different, especially on the defensive line and defensive backfield.
The most stable unit, as far as returning production is the linebackers. My only item on the wish list for that group is a true pass rusher. Some chaos and mayhem would add to an already solid unit (on paper anyway).
It won’t be surprising if the defense takes a step back in 2022, or at least displays some inconsistency. Erik Chinander will have his work cut out for him to mix and match all these new pieces at the front and back of the Blackshirts. If he puts together another overachieving group, it will be very clear that he has come into his own as a Power-5 coach.