Nebraska may Reconsider ‘Peso’ Defense When Big Ten Play Begins
BY TODD NEELEY
With Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten starting in the 2011 season, it makes you wonder if NU’s recent move to what coaches call the “Peso” defense will hold up.
The Peso essentially includes four down linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs. Defensive back Eric Hagg has been playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position. This has allowed Nebraska to get a ton of speed and athleticism on the field at one time.
The one true linebacker spot in the Peso is usually occupied by Lavonte David, Alonzo Whaley or Eric Martin. Most of the time in the first two games David has been the one linebacker playing in the Peso. The one downside is that David is just 6-0, 200 — pretty much the same size as any of the defensive backs in the lineup.
This defense makes a lot of sense in the Big 12 because we’ve seen wide-open, pass-happy offenses carry the day in the past several years. Nebraska’s Peso has been effective because NU can put seven great athletes on the field at one time to cover some great receivers in this conference.
But who knows what happens starting in 2011.
During Nebraska’s weekly Tuesday press conference Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini said the smash mouth style of play in the Big Ten may have some bearing on whether the Huskers play the Peso after the 2010 season.
That’s because to defend what are run-oriented teams in the Big Ten could put a bigger premium on recruiting linebackers more suited for defending the run.
No offense against Lavonte David, but who knows what Nebraska will do on defense when it takes on Kansas State and bruising running back Daniel Thomas in a couple of weeks down in Manhattan. Last year in Lincoln Nebraska was able to keep Thomas pinned down, mostly because linebacker Phillip Dillard was all over the field. Yet Thomas was hard to tackle and put up some decent numbers.
If you look at the Big Ten there is a drastic difference in the way teams play offense. Nebraska will face a much more physical brand of football than what it sees in the Big 12, and much like the way Pelini has NU playing right now.
Pelini told reporters Tuesday that NU continues to recruit players like Hagg who can play multiple positions. It makes you wonder how well this works on defense considering that size may be a premium to defend the run.
Really, though, it isn’t always size that matters.
If you look back on Nebraska’s history, some of the best Husker defenders of all time were not exactly big. Mike Brown, the former Nebraska all-American and all-pro safety was the most fundamentally sound tackler NU has had — and the guy was only 5-11, 200. Barron Miles played corner for Nebraska during the ’94 championship season, and was a very good run defender at 5-8, 165.
I think we’ll continue to see Pelini and company recruit the best athletes regardless of position on defense.
As we’ve seen in Pelini’s first few years at Nebraska, guys aren’t necessarily recruited to play any one position. A good example is safety DeJon Gomes. Pelini said Gomes came to Nebraska as a corner back but hasn’t played that position since he came to Lincoln.
In a short time, however, Gomes has proven that he’s a playmaker. It started last season at the beginning of conference play when Gomes was inserted as a nickel back. He made a big interception at Missouri and had a big forced fumble at Kansas, both changing the face of the game.
Pelini said Lavonte David also has the ability to play more than one position. More importantly, I think we can refer to the back seven on the Nebraska defense as just the back seven. Position really doesn’t matter like it once did. It’s not as clear-cut.
Chances are Nebraska will continue to rely heavily on the play of its defensive line when it begins Big Ten Conference play next season at Wisconsin. Pelini and his staff have shown a tremendous ability to develop defensive linemen.
Ndamukong Suh was a good player when Pelini arrived, but quickly became the best defender in Nebraska history.
One thing’s for sure, we know Pelini will make the right adjustments ahead of the 2011 season.