Big Defensive Gains Not Unprecedented
The Frank Solich head coaching era at Nebraska began in a memorable fashion and not for the best of reasons. While the offense was hitting on all cylinders, the defense struggled mightily against the pass. Louisiana Tech quarterback Tim Rattay and receiver Troy Edwards put on a clinic. Rattay finished with 590 passing yards and 405 of them went to Edwards. While the 1998 season didn't go down as a great one, the defense was between good and great for 11 of the remaining 12 games (Kansas State the exception).
That provides some hope that the current version of Nebraska could make some similar strides. The 1998 NU team followed up the opening day effort by allowing just 56 passing yards the following week and went three straight games without allowing more than 7 points. That included a showdown with a 9th ranked Washington team in Lincoln.
Solich's squad certainly wasn't hurting for talent. It featured all of the names you might remember from the terrific 1999 defensive unit. The 1998 team had Mike Brown, Ralph Brown, Mike Rucker, Chad Kelsay, Kyle VandenBosch, Eric Johnson, Jay Foreman, Steve Warren, Aaron Wills, and Julius Jackson to name ten.
It's too soon to decide how highly we'll come to regard the current crop of Husker defenders, but we probably can't rule out that considerable improvement is possible. Of course, the 1998 unit started strong in the rushing defense department. It also went on to lose 4 games, which NU fans are eager to avoid. It was on the offensive side of the ball where Frank's first team struggled though, which shouldn't be a problem for the 2013 Nebraska team.
The precedent for improvement is there. And if you want to blame it on the heat, the 1985 Huskers laid an egg in the opener on a blistering day before winning nine straight games. So all hope isn't lost. If we see 600 yards from Southern Miss though, then it will be harder to be hopeful for the defense this year.