Now that we have looked at how Nebraska compares to Minnesota’s offense under offensive coordinator Greg Harbaugh, we can now take a look at how Nebraska compares to Minnesota’s defense under defensive coordinator Joe Rossi. Let’s begin.
How Nebraska Matches Up With Minnesota’s Defense
The Linebacker Position
With the transfer of junior Braelen Oliver to Georgia Tech as well as Mariano Sori-Marin being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Rossi has a lot of decisions to make if he wants to improve the Gophers linebacker room. In 1,000 snaps last season, the duo combined for over 331 total tackles and were anchor pieces to a defense that only allowed an average of 17 points per game last season. But who will be the next star duo at the linebacker position? Enter Western Michigan graduate transfer, Ryan Selig. In his last two seasons with the Broncos, he registered 136 solo tackles as well as 12 tackles for loss. As a result of these performances, the coaches want him to elevate his game to the next level for the Gopher defense in 2023. Is it too much to ask or can he live up to the staff’s expectations?
If not, veteran Nebraska linebackers like Nick Henrich and Luke Reimer could easily top the duo’s production in this game. Both have been dependable options for the team to count on. The biggest hurdle for them to overcome is newbie Eric Fields. The Oklahoma native provided a jolt to opponents when he recorded more than 270 tackles over the final two seasons of his high school career in Ardmore. Because of this, we expect him to be a welcome addition in Rob Dvoracek’s linebacker room.
Under Nick Monroe’s leadership, the cornerback position on the Gopher defense should see improvement this season. With Terell Smith graduating and Michael Dixon heading to Rutgers, playing time has never been more open. But who will take over for them? It will likely be Justin Walley. As a freshman in 2022, he had 28 solo tackles along with 11 assists. As a result of this play, he was ranked the 4th best player on Minnesota’s defense by Pro Football Focus. In coverage against other players, he was graded with 80.1. This was most likely due to the four interceptions and nine pass breakups that he had during last season.
On Nebraska’s sideline, Evan Cooper has much more to work with at his position. Husker defensive back Malcolm Hartzog returns this season after leading the team in interceptions last season as a freshman for the Cornhuskers. Quinton Newsome also impressed with his two sacks, a forced fumble and 44 tackles. But can the players resume their dominance in a new scheme?
New Blood vs Experience at the Safety Position
With California native Jordan Howden being drafted by the New Orleans Saints, the Gopher defense in 2023 has lost one of their top options at the safety position. Last season, he racked up 40 solo tackles and two interceptions in coverage. The best bet to replace this production? All-Big Ten safety Tyler Nubin. He had 55 total tackles along with one forced fumble. But he was even better in his coverage skills. In at least five games under position coach Danny Collins, he had a total of four interceptions and three pass breakups.
On the other side of the matchup, the Huskers return one of their most experienced safeties in Myles Farmer. In 2022, he was dominant at his position. He recorded 38 solo tackles with one interception and four pass breakups. Other than that, there is a significant amount of players that don’t have any playing time to their names. This makes it harder for Cooper to decide who will be the best fit for the safety position behind Farmer. This means that redshirt freshmen like Koby Bretz and Gage Stenger will have to help play some snaps. Are they up for the challenge or do they need another year of development?
Read more about Nebraska’s safeties and the rest of the defense here: Nebraska’s Depth At Positions of Need in 2023.
A Young Defensive Line On Both Sides
It’s no secret that Minnesota has to improve its pass rush under defensive line coach Winston DeLattiboudere. With the top two on the defensive line leaving for the NFL, the program has to rely on veteran play from Trill Carter to help alleviate growing pains within the Gopher defense in 2023. But can he deliver? In his junior season, he showed that he was very inconsistent with only 19 total tackles and one-and-a-half sacks. As a result of this, Kyler Baugh to be the heir apparent. In his 13 starts as a senior, he recorded 36 tackles and had one-and-half sacks.
On Nebraska’s side of the matchup, the line dominates the experience battle. Two veterans return in Nash Hutmacher and Ty Robinson. Sophomore Elijah Jeudy transferred in from Texas A&M as well. These are intriguing options, but we are most excited about what freshman Princewill Umanmielien can do for the defense. He had a huge impact in the course of the Spring game in his first start. He finished the game with three tackles for loss and a sack on Heinrich Haarberg. Because of this, expect him to make a great edge rusher in the new system.
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