Defensive linemen adjusting to 3- 4
Play after play, double team after double team.
More than 600 pounds of Wisconsin offensive linemen pushing him out of his gap.
Nebraska defensive tackle Carlos Davis had one tough night last Saturday, perhaps his toughest as a Cornhusker.
As the Badgers ran the ball on 28 of their final 30 plays — with increasing success against NU’s wearying defensive front — he had to keep absorbing the blows from constant double teams, and a thought came to him. This is real. “It was definitely humbling,” Davis said of Wisconsin’s 38-17 win. “I played them last year, but I didn’t think they’d run the ball like they did, and they just kept pounding it and pounding it. I was told they would, but I had to see it for myself, and that was a big shock.”
Davis is part of a defensive line that plays no seniors and is still adjusting to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense.
Mick Stoltenberg and Freedom Akinmoladun are juniors. Carlos and twin brother, Khalil, are sophomores. Deontre Thomas is a true freshman. Alex Davis (sophomore), Sedrick King (junior) and Ben Stille (redshirt freshman) sometimes play, as well.
All are playing the most snaps of their career in a different system from former coordinator Mark Banker’s 4-3 approach.
In a 4-3, linemen shot gaps, attempting to get tackles for loss or push running plays to the edge of the field where linebackers, safeties and corners waited.
Under Diaco, linemen hold their ground in gaps, allowing linebackers to trap ball carriers for short gains.
“You want to tackle people — I think I had one tackle in that game — but my job is to take on double teams,” Carlos Davis said.
As a group, Huskers coach Mike Riley said, the defensive line is in a “mode of development.” All the contributors were recruited by Riley’s staff or were redshirt freshmen when Riley arrived.
“The group in total should grow year to year, in a good way with those young players,” Riley said.
Ohio State, Nebraska’s opponent on Saturday in Memorial Stadium, develops linemen a little more quickly.
The Buckeyes’ defensive line that includes NFL prospects Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Dre’Mont Jones and sophomore Nick Bosa has accounted for 35 tackles for loss in six games. That’s six more than NU’s entire team.
And whereas OSU’s line is full of four- and five-star recruits, consensus three-star Carlos Davis is NU’s highest-rated defensive line recruit. No. 3 is his twin, Khalil.
“What the Davis twins are doing today will be great for them tomorrow,” Riley said. “They both have ability, they’re both really getting their feet wet, and playing serious minutes.”
Diaco said Tuesday that he went to bed Saturday angry, thinking his defensive line “got pushed around and mauled and beat up” by the Badgers.
“But that did not happen,” Diaco added.
The film, Diaco said, showed that correctable mistakes accounted for most of the errors committed by the Huskers’ defensive line.
“You build a bank account of trust with plays that get corrected,” he said.