Erin Sorensen/Land of 10
Did the Blackshirts adjust against Oregon or did the Ducks just ease up in the second half?

Nebraska football mailbag: Explaining the Blackshirts’ turnaround vs. Oregon

Have Nebraska football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Nebraska mailbag to talk all things Huskers. This week, we discuss the Blackshirts’ halftime adjustments against Oregon, coach Mike Riley’s contract extension and more.

I actually talked a little about this on Sunday. Nebraska clearly made some adjustments at halftime, as they were much more effective in the second half. Linebacker Luke Gifford said the defense lacked energy in the first half, but I also think Oregon targeted Nebraska’s young defensive backs pretty heavily from the get-go.

So what changed? Did the Huskers figure things out or did the Ducks let off the throttle? Well, I have a hard time believing Oregon would allow Nebraska to get within one touchdown before deciding that easing up isn’t a good idea. Even if the Ducks did abandon some of their game plan, I do think the Blackshirts stepped it up in the second half.

After the game, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and some players talked about the defense focusing in at halftime, and Diaco added that coaches changed some “systematic things” to help the players better execute the game plan in the second half.

He also said the staff made “some other fundamental and alignment changes and tweaks that we [gave the players], real information to help and then try to refocus the unit’s energy on playing each play individually and not looking at the scoreboard or thinking about the first half.”

I also like what Diaco had to say after Tuesday’s practice. Apparently he makes two sets of video cutups for the defense, one called the “plays that cause losing” and another called “the fight for every inch.” Those are great names, by the way.

Aside from that, as he made the cutups this week and separated them, he noticed something.

“By the time I got done making the cutup, most of the plays on the one cutup, and I didn’t intend for them to be that way, were from the first half. And most of the plays from the second cutup were from the second half.”

I think that says a lot about how the defense ultimately performed last Saturday.

They are not. The NCAA has a new rule on student-athlete time that requires them to be fully off when they’re off. That means if they were off on Mondays, they wouldn’t be able to participate in the weekly news conferences. Instead, coach Mike Riley opted to take Sundays off, which means there are no more scrimmages at that time.

Maybe. It obviously depends on how he performs. Nebraska president Hank Bounds reportedly said he plans to extend Riley again in December, for another year beyond his current extension. However, read what Bounds said about Riley to the Omaha World-Herald again.

“I have great confidence in Mike, to extend his contract to four years. I expect us to compete, and I have every confidence that we’ll extend it again in December.”

There’s that caveat of competing. Let’s say Nebraska goes 5-7 this season. Does the December extension happen? I think 5-7 makes that question more difficult to answer. If it’s still an 8- or 9-win season, though, I think he gets the extension.

I’m guessing your question comes as a result of Brendan Radley-Hiles’ senior notebook. This week he discussed his Clemson visit and his desire to take other visits. I know it’s hard to read tone, so I’ll add some context.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bookie on this project every week for the last month. Beyond that, I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know him since the spring game. His love for Nebraska and his tone have never changed. At the same time, he’s always been nothing but clear (at least from my perspective) that he still wants to take other visits. I mean, why not? You’re only a senior once and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He should live it up.

With that said, I still fully expect him to be a Husker come January. This is my personal opinion. I’m not speaking on his behalf, nor will I fault him if it ends up differently. It’s just from where I stand today, I think he’s still going to end up in Lincoln.

I know you also said I could mention true freshman in a separate tweet, so I’ll break them down separately.

For redshirt freshmen, I like what I’ve seen from Dicaprio Bootle so far. I know he’s in a bit of a tough spot with the defense as it adjusts (and the younger defensive backs continue to get targeted) but he’s handling himself well. I imagine he’ll only get better.

As for freshmen, Deontre Thomas has been nothing short of impressive. My favorite anecdote about him is from the first day of fall camp. The team was not in pads, but he walked in and looked like he was. It was impressive. I think you’ll see big things from him in the future.

Who could break out later this season? I’m hoping it’s former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson. Talk about an amazing story if he does.

A question I wish I had the answer for. I’m going to let Diaco’s words from Tuesday night help me out here.

“I surely for anyone listening don’t want to minimize this in any way,” Diaco said. “I don’t want to come off that way. There is a weight and a gravity to this that I understand. I’m respectful of that and honor that opportunity, and it doesn’t look like it should look and the points don’t look like it should look. And that doesn’t make it any more or less real that we’re getting better.

“We are getting better and the games have gone the way they’ve gone. It got better and it will continue to get better.”

I share that because I know Diaco understands the importance of the Blackshirts and getting this defense on track. However, I also know Nebraska is going to face some very physical athletes against a team such as Ohio State. I think Nebraska’s second-half performance against Oregon shows potential, but now we have to see what happens.

Will we get the first half or the second half against Oregon come Big Ten play? If only I had that answer now.

There’s always been a little debate around this but from what I’ve been told, it was Jason Peter against Kansas State in 1997. However, I’ve also been told it might have been earlier, meaning others before him may have done it but he helped make it what it is today. I’ve always been curious on the specifics of that.

Whatever the case, it’s grown into something much, much bigger and one of my more favorite traditions in college football.

It’s currently Joshua Kalu. His beard is bleached. It’s quite the look and he wins because of it.

Have a question about Nebraska football? Tweet us @Landof10Huskers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Nebraska football mailbags here.