LINCOLN, NEB. As Nebraska prepares for Saturday night's game at Iowa State, the Blackshirt defense is accentuating one of the few positives that came out of its dismal performance against Kansas.
"If you can have a game where you pretty much play horrible and still win, that's good," linebacker Stewart Bradley said Tuesday. "You're going to have games where you don't play your best. We're happy we survived it and came out with a 'W.'"
The 22nd-ranked Huskers (4-1, 1-0 Big 12) can ill afford to give up 574 yards, like they did at home against Kansas University, when they go on the road to Iowa State (3-2, 0-1). The Huskers lost their last two games at Jack Trice Stadium largely because of poor defense.
In a 36-14 loss in 2002, the Cyclones used a balanced attack (220 yards passing, 192 rushing) to pile up 412 yards.
In a 34-27 loss in 2004, Bret Meyer passed for 345 yards and three touchdowns as the Cyclones racked up 466 yards.
Meyer put up big numbers in last week's 28-27 win over Northern Iowa, hitting 24-of-29 passes for a season-high 323 yards and two touchdowns.
If Nebraska hopes to leave Ames, Iowa, with a victory, coach Bill Callahan said, it must put pressure on Meyer.
Problem is, the Huskers haven't shown the ability to get to the passer consistently. They have just seven sacks in five games. Baylor and Oklahoma are the only Big 12 defenses with fewer.
Kansas quarterback Adam Barmann threw for 405 yards in Nebraska's 39-32 overtime victory last week, and he was not sacked in 54 pass attempts.
"We always want sacks," Callahan said. "That will be a key emphasis this week. We have to put pressure on this guy. It's going to be important that we pick up our production in that area."
Nebraska's front seven was touted among the best in the nation coming into the season. But near the season's halfway point, the Huskers' defense is undistinguished, ranking eighth in the Big 12 and 56th nationally (321 ypg).
"The only thing we have to prove is to ourselves," Bradley said. "We know what we can do. Everything is improvable. A lot of it is mental mistakes and so easily correctible."
Bradley said part of the problem against Kansas was the crowd noise. Yes, crowd noise by the Huskers' own fans.
The din, he said, made it difficult for defenders to communicate when they needed to adjust to a Kansas formation, shift or motion.
"Communication is always easier on the road because the (crowd) is quiet for the offense," Bradley said. "That's one plus for playing away for us."
The Huskers also must avoid letdowns - something they didn't do against the Jayhawks, Bradley said.
Nebraska gave up passes of 26, 30, 40, 40 and 46 yards and a run of 41 yards.
"Against a spread offense, you have to play defense at a high effort and run to the ball all the time," he said. "If you lapse, you put a lot of pressure on individual players to make spectacular plays because on the open field everything is spread out."
Callahan stands by his defensive staff's game plan against Kansas. The Huskers didn't use any nickel defense, which employs an extra pass defender, against an offense that at times featured four receivers.
"We've got linebackers we think are just as capable of playing coverage," Callahan said.
Callahan said cornerback Andre Jones, who had an interception against KU, has improved steadily since taking over for the injured Zack Bowman.