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Bull Testicles and Base 3-4: Is Nebraska’s defense nuts? // B1G 2019, Nebraska Potluck #3

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No, the puns will not stop.

Bethune Cookman v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Arteries clogged yet?

Nebraska Week marches on at Off Tackle Empire, and we’ve stuffed you full of the Cheese Frenchie (a deep-fried grilled cheese) and McRibs (the process was invented in Nebraska)...or takes on “progress” for the Huskers in 2019 and Nebraska’s offense with Adrian Martinez at the helm. Y’know, depending on your opinion.

But there’s lots of great—or heart-stopping, or maybe both—Nebraska food to go around, and we wouldn’t want you to think that what we’re highlighting is all that’s out there! In fact, our friends at Corn Nation have actually introduced an excellent series of Nebraska-themed recipes. Lots of meat and cream-based soups to go around! Check ‘em out:

I’ll be trying the Rinderrouladen, myself.

But we march on with our own potlucks, today exploring what was really Nebraska’s problem in 2018—the other side of the ball—and...well, nuts.

Question #1: A Contextual Testicle Festival

On the way from Omaha to Lincoln, stop off in Ashland, NE, and enjoy that iconic Nebraska treat: the Rocky Mountain oyster!

It’s not a uniquely Nebraska food, sure, but the preponderance of cattle in Nebraska—and restaurants’ penchant for fryin’ up a few of the best hangers-off, if you will—gives me a chance to celebrate the Testicle Festival held in Ashland just a couple weeks from now, appropriately, on Father’s Day Weekend. (Jesus—they’re not half-assing this one.)

In honor of Testicle Festival, writers, answer these two questions:
(1) Would you or have you? (2) What’s a disgusting food you have had, and...like...why?

Beez: (1) I haven’t but I’d gobble a testicle or two to see what all the fuss is about; (2) Uhhh if a food is disgusting wouldn’t I like it rather than call it disgusting? Know what’s actually a super disgusting food? Walnuts. Worst damn food on the planet.

BRT: 1) Indeed I have. In fact, my physics class in high school once had a Testicle Festival of our own. Our teacher’s brother manufactured the things, or something like that, so we had a spread of FOUR different kinds of testicles for our fry. (I don’t remember them all—I know there was cow and sheep.)

Deep fried them on the back steps of the school and ate them with cocktail sauce. That’s probably my most “growing up in rural Nebraska” story. They are fine, by the way--they taste like any other fried thing.

2) I’ve tried some kind of seaweed and found little to recommend it. Also, coconut water. It sounds like it should be delicious and refreshing. It tastes like something you’d wring out of a used washcloth.

WSR: 1) Have I? Nope. Would I? Probably. I’m all for trying whatever cuisine in strange and wonderful lands becomes available, although I probably do draw the line at cat.

2) I think it’s still probably goat at a Pakistani wedding, although with the spices and rice it was rather incredible.

Creighton: Rocky Mountain oysters? Yeah I’ve had them. They taste like chicken livers and I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about. They are, however, way better than the absolute worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth: kale. Anyone who says they like kale is lying to you. They are your enemy, not your friend.

MNW: I have had them in a couple different forms, including the “lamb fries” at the Minnesota State Fair (turns out “fried shit” and “balls” go together well at Midwestern state fairs). They’re fine, enhanced with sauce, but a perfectly cromulent snack.

Creighton is wrong about kale—I love it in my smoothies—and BRT is absolutely correct about coconut water, though I find it a little concerning that she is just casually recounting how a dude brought a whole bunch of animal testicles to her high school and fried ‘em up on the back steps. That’s like the dude from Parks and Rec who really wanted to know about the spaying and neutering tools’ usage.

Poll

Rocky Mountain oysters: wouldja?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    I have, and they’re good!
    (50 votes)
  • 4%
    I have, and never again!
    (7 votes)
  • 33%
    I have not, but I would!
    (50 votes)
  • 28%
    I have not, and I would not!
    (43 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now

Question #2: Also a nut-punch? The Nebraska defense

We did it with the Nebraska offense...it only seems fair to do it with Scott Frost’s defense:

So that’s...I mean...not ideal. Turns out when you’re not trying to contain and outscore the East Carolinas and Connecticuts and Cincinnatis of the world, shit’s a lot tougher than it looks!

What’s no doubt been most frustrating in this is that Nebraska, in Year One of Frost, had its chances to get stops on defense, but yielded a 103rd-best 43.2% conversion rate on third down. That’s a thread running through Frost’s defenses—passing defenses have often been decent (with talents like Mike Hughes at UCF), but on passing downs, his teams struggle to avoid conceding yards. With returning DBs DiCaprio Bootle and Lamar Jackson, the Huskers secondary should be better, continuing Scott Frost’s and DC Erik Chinander’s history of capable secondaries.

Most glaringly, though, is the bottoming-out of Nebraska’s run defense in 2018. Adjusting to Chinander’s 3-4 base defense, the Huskers struggled to get to the quarterback (decidedly middle-of-the-pack with 2.08 sacks/gm), struggled to stop the run (96th in yards allowed), and yielded 300+ on the ground to both wisconsin and...Illinois? Things might be rounding into form for the Huskers, though, and it boils down to a brotherly matter: Oklahoma State transfer Darrion Daniels joins his brother, Damion Daniels, both with line-clogging ability at point of attack. Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis both offer athleticism at the line, though more production in the form of sacks and TFLs would be great.

So we ask you, writers: What’s the Nebraska defense this year? Is it just a good offense, or will Chinander and Frost buck their two-year trend and turn the Huskers’ defense around?

Bonus: Weigh in on the 3-4 vs. 4-3 debate, and tell us if you think one is better suited to life in the Big Ten.

Townie: With regard to deep fried balls...I have not and probably won’t. I did have a squid ink pate in Italy that was gross but delicious. Think fresh ink sacks slow cooked with chicken livers and onions. Blended into a pate that we spread on toasted bread. It was creamy delicious and turned my tongue black as pitch.

I don’t know about Nebraska’s defense, honestly. They were 88th in scoring, giving up over 31 points per game. Defensive line looks to be okay, but linebacker is a problem. They had four inside linebackers in 2018...two are now gone. Dedrick Young graduated and Jacob Weinmaster retired from football. They had to pull Collin Miller from outside to inside linebacker toward the end of the season.

They lost Guy Thomas, a promising three star linebacker, to transfer. He was the eighth recruit from the 2017 class to transfer, and the fourth linebacker. That means Nebraska will be even thinner at that spot this year. Nebraska diehards will point out that he didn’t make an impact last year, when the team was thin at linebacker.

That’s not good.

They have four solid freshmen recruits coming in this year. Four stars Jackson Hannah and Nick Henrich along with three stars Garret Nelson and Garret Snodgrass. We will see all four in games this year.

The starting four players are solid. Anybody gets hurt and this group will be a major problem. Youth will be a problem too. This team probably takes a step back at linebacker this season...which means the whole defense could be worse in 2019 than in 2018.

As for breakout players, I’m watching JoJo Domman at outside linebacker. I think he’s going to be a star for the Huskers this year.

Beez: The Nebraska defense is “existing” this year. A step up from the past two years, but still not worthy of an adjective denoting quality or even mediocrity. But given how good the offense could theoretically be, a defense that exists might be good enough to finish 2nd in the West.

Bonus answer: a 3-4 is much better in a conference where it’s pretty tough to get top flight Defensive Line recruits. Wisconsin’s defensive success coincided with the switch to the 3-4, because it’s easier for a school with Wisconsin’s recruiting profile to get speedy OLBs and run confusing schemes and stunts and such to give what’s basically a free shot at the QB than it is to recruit defensive lineman who can beat a guy and get into the backfield. Also it’s what App State ran/runs and what’s allowed them to have such a good D recently.

BRT: I mean… it literally can’t get a lot worse, right? It was truly hard to watch at times last year.

I will be pleased with “adequate” as a descriptor at the end of the season.

WSR: I’m not sure what to think. Nebraska did enough to get a few opportune stops at times, but nowhere near enough over the course of the season to help the offense out.

What concerns me is when you have just massive defensive failures and you don’t do the sensible thing, like drop the DC out of a plane between the Champaign-Urbana International Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Maybe Frost doesn’t think he had the talent in place to run the defense like they wanted last year, and maybe he just doesn’t understand how defense works in the B1G.

I just know that this combined with the offense’s potential will have me watching Nebraska games early with rapt attention.

Creighton: Nebraska’s defense has nowhere to go but up, so I guess that’s good.

Conventional wisdom says a 4-3 is better suited to life in the Big Ten, but that all depends on what kind of players you have on your roster. If you’ve got a 330 pound DT who can fill a gap but won’t be able to run stunts? Athletic OLB’s that are good tacklers but not the best in pass coverage? Go ahead and run a 3-4. If you’ve got a creative DC I think you get a lot more flexibility out of a 3-4.

MNW: As I was prepping this write-up, I was honestly convincing myself that it could be the return of the Blackshirts.

Then I waited to write my reaction.

Chinander will need to coax a lot of progress out of his front seven if the Huskers are going to challenge for the West crown—unless they plan on just outscoring everyone. I’d say the way to get around this would be a stronger pass rush; between the Averys and the Daniels, Frost might just have that. But it will require a lot of development at run-stopping to convince me that Nebraska is anything more than a middle-of-the-pack defense.

Bonus: I’m inclined to agree with Creighton and Beez that it’s a matter of looking at personnel. Northwestern makes up the difference—because Mike Hankwitz is ancient and good at his job and going nowhere—as I understand it, by basically using a safety as another linebacker, walking the Godwin Igwebuikes and JR Paces and Jared McGees of the world down into the linebacking corps when they see a tight end. And, somehow, Northwestern hasn’t been bad at finding nose tackles over the last couple years.

Basically, I wouldn’t be surprised in 10 years if the ‘Cats are running a 3-4. But in the meantime, they’re sticking with an old-school 4-3, their desire to be Purple Iowa intact.

Poll

Where will the Nebraska defense finish up?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    One of the best in the conference
    (6 votes)
  • 42%
    Upper-half; a solid improvement
    (94 votes)
  • 41%
    Decidedly mediocre
    (92 votes)
  • 12%
    Hello, Illinois and Rutgers; good to see you again
    (28 votes)
220 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Weigh in on the 3-4/4-3 debate:

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Strongly 3-4
    (46 votes)
  • 23%
    Strongly 4-3
    (48 votes)
  • 40%
    I’ll look at the personnel and tell you
    (83 votes)
  • 13%
    I have no idea
    (28 votes)
205 votes total Vote Now