Mission impossible for ISU defense?

Jeff Stell

It has been the same old story in Nebraska as the option offense has powered the Huskers to a 4-0 start. The ISU defense hopes to slow down the Huskers’ option. They have their work cut out for them.

Every team in the nation knows the Huskers run the option but few teams have success at stopping it. ISU defensive coordinator John Skladany knows what his team needs to do to have a chance.

“To defend option football, you have to have your assignments down,” Skladany said. Somebody has to make sure they cover the fullback, somebody has to get the quarterback, and somebody has to be on the pitch. You have to work your schemes accordingly so the defenses you run are option sound.”

Through the first four games, the Huskers are averaging 486.8 yards of total offense, including 355 rushing yards. Despite this success, Husker running back Dan Alexander isn’t satisfied.

“I think we’ve done some good things but we also haven’t lived up to our potential,” Alexander said. “We could be doing a better job and I’m trying to get this offense to the point where we’re scoring on every opportunity.”

Junior quarterback Eric Crouch leads the Husker attack and must make the right decisions to make sure the option runs smoothly. Coming down the line of scrimmage, Crouch must decide whether to pitch to the running back or turn it up field and run.

“It’s pretty much instinct for me, I’ve been doing it so long,” Crouch said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into running the option, like timing with your I backs, and you have to have great sense in getting the right reads with fullbacks.”

Crouch feels this year’s offense is more effective after where it was after four games last season.

“If you compare to last year, we’re very far ahead,” Crouch said. “We’re executing our option and taking care of the ball. We only have one turnover in the option and we worked very hard on that during the off-season.”

Skladany has been impressed with the Huskers’ offensive output so far, and sees a team effort as the driving force.

“They’re really solid,” Skladany said. “They have a big, experienced offensive line, big and physical running backs and an electric player at quarterback. They’re putting up some big numbers.”

Making the option harder to defend is the Huskers’ recent passing attack. Two weeks ago, Crouch threw five touchdown passes against Iowa.

“They pose a lot of problems for a secondary,” said ISU Associate Head Coach Bobby Elliott. “The secondary has to support the run and defend against the pass, and Nebraska knows that. Their passing game is a lot better than what people give them credit for. They take advantage of what you have to do to stop the run.”

Skladany is also concerned about the Huskers’ passing game.

“We’d like to face a team that is one-dimensional,” Skladany said. “The way they’re throwing the ball plus running inside and running the option, you got your hands full with them.”