December 25, 2012

Run defense key

Scheme: 4-3 (two-gap match-up zone)

Defensive coordinator: John Papuchis (first season)

Total yards allowed: 4,460 (343.1 per game)

Points per game allowed: 341(26.2)

Rushing yards allowed: 2,533 (194.8)

Passing yards allowed: 1,927 (148.2)

All-Conference players on defense: Media/Coaches teams

First team: DE Eric Martin (media); S Daimion Stafford (media)

Second team: Martin (coaches); DT Baker Steinkuhler (Coaches); LB Will Compton (Coaches); Stafford (coaches)

Regular season defensive MVP: Ciante Evans was the Swiss army knife of the Nebraska secondary, which was among the nation's best. He played primarily at the nickel position, accumulating 53 tackles and a pair of sacks. But his work on the outside was incredibly valuable as well. No game better displayed this than NU's comeback win over Wisconsin in September. All-conference wideout Jared Abbrederis had five catches and 107 yards in the first half of that game, but the Huskers put Evans on him in the second half. Abbrederis had just two second-half receptions as Nebraska came back from a 10-point deficit.

Defensive player under the radar: Eric Martin may not be a well-known name nationally, but opposing quarterbacks got to know him quite well this season. A former linebacker, Martin switched to defensive end last season and this year provided the Huskers with the feared pass rusher they sorely missed in 2011. Though Martin is a bit undersized at 250 pounds, his quickness helped him pile up 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss this season.

Best game on defense: Iowa. The Hawkeye offense was weak this season and the weather conditions that day certainly didn't help either scoring attack. But the Huskers' performance was impressive nonetheless. Iowa found the end zone on its opening drive but was held scoreless after that. Nebraska gave up just 200 total yards and picked off James Vandenberg twice to win the Legends Division.

Worst game on defense The Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin. The Huskers had multiple defensive breakdowns this season, but none were worse than the most recent collapse. The Badgers did whatever they pleased offensively and had 63 points midway through the third quarter before easing off the gas pedal. Three Wisconsin backs topped the 100-yard plateau as the Badgers rushed for 539 yards and averaged 10.8 yards per carry. The 70 points were the most NU has allowed during the Bo Pelini era.

Overall defensive strength: Pass defense. The Huskers routinely rotated four cornerbacks in the starting lineup but had great success with each. Nebraska was best in the country in passing yards allowed (148.2 yards per game) and second in passing efficiency (96.6). Opponents completed just 46.4 percent of their passes this season. The Huskers don't pick off a lot of passes, as they had just 11 this year. But they are very physical in coverage and can eliminate an opponent's passing game.

Biggest defensive concern or weakness: Rushing defense. The Big Ten championship game was among the worst performances in school history, but it wasn't the first time the Huskers were torched on the ground this season. UCLA ran for 344 yards (6.1 per carry) and Ohio State piled up 371 (7.7). Overall, Nebraska ranked 95th in the country in rushing defense. Making matters worse, Nebraska's already-thin defensive tackle rotation was devastated when Baker Steinkuhler suffered a season-ending injury against Iowa.

Key injuries on defense: Steinkuhler was a rock for NU at defensive tackle, so his injury was the biggest blow. Fellow tackle Thad Randle has battled injuries throughout his career, but will play in the Capital One Bowl. Freshmen linemen Avery Moss, Kevin Williams and Aaron Curry have all seen their roles diminished by injury, but the back seven has been pretty healthy throughout the season.

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