Nebraska interim coach Mickey Joseph tilted his head and held back a smile at his news conference Tuesday when asked what kind of defense he would like to see under new coordinator Bill Busch. “A defense that stops the run and stops the pass and shuts people out,” he said. “That’s a good defense.” The Cornhuskers (1-3), who have an open date this week before they host Indiana on Oct. 1, have proved to be far from a good defense through four games.
The 642 yards surrendered in a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern on Sept. 10 were the most ever by an opponent at Memorial Stadium and third-most all-time against Nebraska. That defeat cost head coach Scott Frost his job. Last week, in Joseph’s first game in the interim role, they gave up 580 in a 49-7 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma. That prompted Joseph to dismiss defensive coordinator Erik Chinander on Sunday and replace him with Bill Busch for the rest of the season. “Chins is a good man and a good coach, but the numbers didn’t add up,” Joseph said. “I didn’t see us getting better from Week 1 to Week 4. So I had to make a decision, the best decision for the kids, because it’s about the boys.”
Busch was in his first year as special teams coach. That job now is being handled by Joey Connors, who joined the staff last year as a special teams quality control assistant. The 57-year-old Busch is in his third stint on the Huskers’ staff. He had been a graduate assistant under Tom Osborne from 1990-93 and special teams coordinator and safeties coach under Bill Callahan from 2004-07. Joseph got to know Busch when both were assistants at LSU. Joseph was receivers coach from 2017-21 and Busch was safeties coach from 2018-20.
Joseph noted that Busch has worked extensively with one of the game’s best defensive minds in Dave Aranda, now head coach at Baylor. Busch and Aranda were on staffs together at Utah State, Wisconsin and LSU. “Bill is built for this,” Joseph said. “He’s sharp. He’s going to be detailed. He’s a really good football coach.” Safety Myles Farmer said the defense has a long way to go. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” Farmer said after the Oklahoma loss. “We’ve been tagging off for four years.”
By that, Farmer meant the Huskers had not done live tackling in practices under Frost. Asked about Farmer’s comment Tuesday, Joseph said there was live tackling in scrimmages previously. He said tackling has been part of practices since Frost’s firing. Joseph said he plans to slow the pace of the offense the rest of the season to help the defense get more rest. He said he regretted not doing that against Oklahoma. The Huskers mostly played an up-tempo style under Frost. The question now is how much improvement can be reasonably expected over the next eight games.
Nebraska ranks 128th out of 131 Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense, 124th against the run, 115th against the pass, 114th in scoring defense and 100th in sacks. The Huskers are among 10 teams allowing opponents to convert at least half of their third downs. The Huskers’ average of 13.5 missed tackles per game, according to Pro Football Focus, ranks 126th. Joseph said everything he’s doing is meant to keep hope alive for the rest of the season. “I’m going to hold everybody accountable from coaches all the way to players and keep encouraging them that we can get better if we come out and give the effort,” he said.
Joseph said he also plans to keep working to upgrade talent through recruiting, even though he knows he and the rest of the staff might not be retained. Joseph is hitting the road to recruit late this week, as are some of his assistants. “We’re not going to try to sabotage anything,” he said. “If we don’t get the job, they’re going to say we left this place better than we found it.”