LINCOLN, Neb. — Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams saw something switch in cornerback Lamar Jackson. After a rocky first half, the Huskers came out swinging. And that’s when it happened.
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert threw his one interception of the game. Jackson got a hand on it, tipping the ball right to safety Aaron Williams. It was a move that prompted the Ducks to play much more conservative over the next four drives, averaging just 20 yards.
“You could tell a big difference after he made that play on the interception,” coach Williams said after practice on Tuesday. “He was a totally different person. He’s going to continue to grow. He’s going to continue to make plays. He’ll continue to get better, tackle better. He’s going to be more on top.
“He’s learning and he’s going to be better.”
And a matchup against a team like Oregon will help. Aaron Williams knows. The experience players like Jackson and sophomore cornerback Eric Lee Jr. received is crucial.
So much so, Williams hesitates as he puts his thoughts into words.
“I think it’s very valuable, because — and I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this — when you look back at Oregon, that game right there makes you grow up just because of their skill position players,” Williams said. “That’s like when you first go out there and you go against people like that, it gives you all the confidence and all the game experience that you need.”
Coach Williams understands. He saw a group of players on Oregon’s offense that were highly-skilled. The Ducks were also “feisty and physical,” which wore the young Nebraska defensive backs down. Add to it the nearly 60,000 fans in the stadium and it can be overwhelming.
So, how does Nebraska continue to build confidence in its defensive backs despite the bumps in the road? It’s easier said that done.
“It’s hard sometimes and that comes from experience,” Donte Williams said. “You’ve got people who’ve never really played corner and they’re still learning on a day-to-day basis so confidence is big.”
Yes, the experience is key. And with that experience, little shifts begin to happen.
As Williams learns about his players, he also says he’s learning plenty about himself. And as the cornerbacks coach, he has every intention of making sure Nebraska’s secondary looks more like the second half at Oregon and not like the first.
Nebraska fixed those little mistakes during halftime in Eugene, but the Huskers want that mindset from the moment they take the field going forward. Aaron Williams believes every problem has been and will continue to be addressed.
“It’s just mental mistakes,” he said. “The mistakes are easy to correct as a group and as a whole. It’s not big or drastic mistakes. It’s just individuals and concepts and it’s just brain farts here and there.
“As long as we clean those up, we should be good to go.”
When Jackson got a hand on the ball that ultimately led to an interception against Oregon, coach Williams watched as the sophomore cornerback’s disposition changed. His rhythm and his confidence shifted, and things started looking up.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a sign of what is possible. That alone gives the cornerbacks coach hope for the rest of the season.
“As a secondary, we’re still learning,” Williams said. “Even the guys that have played, they’re playing new positions. So that day, we weren’t ready. We’ll be ready from now on.”