Seeing double on returns; Pierson-El not yet back for kicks
LINCOLN — Among the new wrinkles that Nebraska showed during Saturday night’s 43-10 win was the use of defensive tackles Khalil and Carlos Davis on kickoff returns.
The twins, both pushing 300 pounds, lined up at the 20-yard line as the last protectors for returners Tre Bryant and Jordan Nelson. Luke McNitt and Sam Cotton were split a little wider at about the 25.
On the one kick that NU returned, the Davis twins formed a mini-wedge, took their defenders wide and Bryant shot through on his way to the 32-yard line.
“They’re big, physical, and I kind of put myself in their shoes: If I was coming down on kickoff cover and they were coming at me, I’d probably want to run the other way,” said Bruce Read, NU’s special teams coach.
“I’ve been pleased with them. And their attitude about it has been really good. They can have some fun with it because all the blocks have to be above the waist, and they’ve got a good 50 pounds on everybody they’re going against.”
Read said the twins are athletic enough to operate in space. But the right relationship with the returner should bring the defenders to them, “so they don’t really have to chase them.”
“The defense has to come, because we’ve got what they want, right behind us,” Read said.
Pierson-El not yet back for kicks
Jordan Westerkamp was back as the Huskers’ punt returner against Fresno State, and Read said NU is “kind of waiting” on De’Mornay Pierson-El.
Read said the staff will wait for Pierson-El to tell them when he is fully ready. The junior is coming back from last October’s leg and knee injuries, but he played a decent amount of snaps Saturday at receiver.
“I’m glad that he got in and played, and got through it good,” Read said. “I think we can use both those kids over the course of the season. DP is a phenomenal punt returner in the sense that he can just make people miss, then he puts his foot in the ground and splits another three or four, and then it’s just chaos for the punt team.
“He’s a guy we definitely want to get reps, but we want to bring him in slow.”
Read said he maybe rushed Pierson-El back into punt returns last September after a foot injury in camp. He handled four — after leading the nation in punt return yardage in 2014 — before the injury at Purdue.
“I don’t want to jam him in there too quick,” Read said. “So it’ll be good to let Westy hold that down, and then we can get that flash in there pretty soon.”
Chris Jones up to the challenge
It was second-and-goal on the 4 and Fresno State’s top target was lined up by himself on the right side of the formation.
Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones, in a stance preparing for a man-to-man battle against Aaron Peck, knew the football was coming his way.
“Either he was going to run a slant or he was going to run a fade,” Jones said.It was the fade. And Jones was ready. He got inside position, jumped for the football and hauled in his third career interception. That kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard in the final moments.Fresno State threw six passes Jones’ way Saturday. Three were completed for 23 total yards. Two others fell incomplete. The final one was intercepted.Extended playing time for MauriceFresno State’s ran 34 plays in the first half. And senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice was on the field for each of them.It was the most extensive playing time Maurice has had during his entire career. He said he felt it at halftime, but the adrenaline seemed to mask any exhaustion.“I felt good. A little tired — but good. Ready to keep going,” Maurice said.He ended up getting a few breaks in the second half. He finished Saturday with two total tackles. It was his second career start.“It was real fun,” Maurice said.Bits and piecesWesterkamp caught a 6-yard pass in the fourth quarter to extend his streak with at least one reception to 27 games. If he hauls in a catch next week, he’ll tie Kenny Bell for the third-longest streak in NU history. … Defensive end Ross Dzuris had 2 ½ sacks in his career before getting two Saturday. Only 29 other players nationally recorded two or more sacks in their openers. … Nebraska didn’t turn the ball over Saturday. The Huskers had just one turnover-free game last year — that came against Minnesota. … Four true freshmen played Saturday — cornerback Lamar Jackson, safety JoJo Domann, I-back Tre Bryant and punter Caleb Lightbourn. There were nine redshirt freshmen who made their debuts — defensive end Alex Davis, safety Avery Anderson, defensive back Eric Lee, linebacker Mohamed Barry, defensive end DaiShon Neal, offensive tackle Christian Gaylord, center Michael Decker, defensive tackle Khalil Davis and defensive tackle Carlos Davis.