Iowa vs. Nebraska, 11.29

Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander watches from the sidelines before the game against Iowa on Friday at Memorial Stadium. 

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Nebraska junior defensive end Ben Stille sounded Friday like he didn't want to talk too much about any progress the Husker defense made this season.

After all, the Huskers had just lost to Iowa to finish with a 5-7 record, including 3-6 in the Big Ten.

"At the end of the day, we have only one more win than we had last year and no bowl game," he said.

But if you judge progress by statistics, Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander's crew did make some leaps forward.

"Nice to think that, but at the end of the day we have nothing to show for it," Stille said flatly.

Such a level of dissatisfaction likely will be appealing to many frustrated Nebraska fans.

You also heard dissatisfaction from sophomore defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt.

"Honestly, it's going to be very tough," Taylor-Britt said of the offseason. "I hope everybody has the same mindset that I have. If they don't, they need to get with it. I just feel like we need to come in this offseason and work hard -- work as hard as ever. It's tough when you lose to Iowa, man. I hate it."

He said Nebraska's defense, which featured six senior starters, played with more confidence this season. But more progress obviously is needed overall. Entering the season, I identified five key areas where the Husker defense most needed to make strides: takeaways, yards per rush allowed, sacks, explosive plays allowed and third-down efficiency.

It made strides in all those areas, but the strides weren't nearly big enough to make much of a dent.

Chinander always emphasizes takeaways. I've said it before: Takeaways change lives. We're talking players' lives, coaches' lives, coaches wives' and kids' lives, fans' lives, merchants' lives, you name it. Nebraska came up with 21 takeaways this season, just one more than last year. The Huskers matched last season's total of 11 interceptions and came up with one more fumble recovery.

That's good, but not good enough.

Same goes for Nebraska's run defense. The Huskers allowed 4.82 yards per carry to rank 102nd nationally. That's a bit down from opponents' 5.0 yards per carry in 2018. Again, the Blackshirts need to be much better. How much better? Well, Ohio State allows 2.59 yards per rush, Wisconsin 3.33. Those teams won their respective Big Ten divisions.

Nebraska may not ever challenge for first place in the division allowing 4.82 yards per carry.

We also know the importance of sacks in this discussion. Nebraska recorded 27 of them this season, two more than 2018. That's still not enough. Not even close. Ohio State is tied for second nationally with 49, and Wisconsin is fifth with 44. The Huskers lose their leading sack producers in seniors Khalil Davis (eight) and Carlos Davis (four). Stille leads all returners with three while JoJo Domann and Caleb Tannor both had 2½.

If Nebraska can find a way to generate more pressure on quarterbacks, it could help limit big plays by offenses. The Huskers this season allowed 57 plays of 20 yards or more, tied for 54th nationally. That's slightly better than the 61 big plays surrendered last season. For the sake of comparison, Utah leads the nation with 23 plays of 20 yards or more allowed, followed by Clemson (25) and Iowa (31).

Roll up your sleeves, Blackshirts.

As for opponents' third-down efficiency, Nebraska allowed first downs 40.12% of the time to rank 76th nationally -- down from 43.2% (105th).

So, even Chinander's biggest detractors would be unfair in saying his unit took a step backward.

Taylor-Britt emphasizes the energy with which the unit played, particularly in the last few games.

"We didn't have a lot of energy on the sideline when somebody made a play (last year)," he said.

Stille, though, was in no mood for positive reflections after Nebraska's fifth straight loss to Iowa. The former Ashland-Greenwood standout had a hard time leaving the field.

"I told the seniors that I just felt bad for them," he said. "With everything they've been through, I was just sad we couldn't get it done for them."

Nebraska showed plenty of fight against its border rivals. The Husker defense was good, but not good enough -- a familiar theme in 2019.

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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