LINCOLN — Tony Tuioti is taking a bigger role than usual in Nebraska game prep this week. After all, he had an up-close look at Northern Illinois’ starting quarterback the past two years.
Tuioti is NU’s first-year defensive line coach. Ross Bowers is a graduate transfer who won the top QB spot at NIU in fall camp. Both were part of the same Cal program in 2017 and 2018, with the assistant coach frequently working opposite the passer in practice.
“We have some keys that we’re relying on to try to make sure we affect him as much as we can,” Tuioti said.
The coach said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Bowers commands an offense well. He’s smart and accurate with the football and grew into a leader during their time together in Berkeley.
Bowers, who beat out NIU incumbent Marcus Childers, has completed 40 of 62 passes for 528 yards with three touchdowns and two picks in two games.
“He’ll try to make some plays with his feet when he has to, but he definitely wants to throw the football as much as he can to move the chains for the offense,” Tuioti said. “But we got our work cut out for us with Ross. He’s very cerebral, very smart.”
Honas, inside 'backers thriving
Will Honas isn’t quite ready to call a major knee injury a blessing in disguise. But he’s getting closer with every big play.
Once a coveted junior college transfer, Honas is still a junior in eligibility only because of the torn ACL he suffered in his fourth game last year. While it set him back in terms of strength and speed — he wasn’t fully cleared to return to football until the summer — it also gave him the chance to better learn the defensive scheme. And look out for 2020.
“I think having an extra year is going to be big for me,” Honas said. “And I’m happy I was able to get that redshirt because having an extra year, I’m definitely going to make up for missing that time.”
Inside linebackers coach Barrett Ruud said Honas is part of a position group including senior Mohamed Barry and junior Collin Miller that has shared snaps just as he envisioned. Barry (60 snaps), Honas (51) and Miller (46) all shared the load against Colorado and left their mark on the game.
Job sharing is even more important considering that Nebraska’s up-tempo offense can ask the defense to be on the field for 90-plus snaps. If only two players are shouldering those duties, it can translate to four or five extra games during the fall.
Ruud said Saturday was among the better performances the inside linebackers have enjoyed in his year-plus back at Nebraska as a coach.
“For Game 2, it was a pretty good showing for them,” Ruud said.
Chinander had an interesting theory why there were defensive breakdowns in the secondary.
Nebraska cross-trains the corners and safeties so they know both positions. But Chinander isn’t sure they know their own positions well enough.
“The issue there is you’re cross-training so many guys to play positions and I don’t know if that has a little bit to do with them not knowing exactly what to do at crucial moments in the game,” Chinander said. “We gotta get that fixed.
'Make or go home'
Isaac Armstrong was used to being on the field for Nebraska’s field goals. He was the holder last season for Barret Pickering.
But Pickering remains out of NU’s lineup because of an undisclosed injury that has him on a light kick count in practice. So Armstrong, last Thursday, learned he’d be the kicker himself. And while he made one field goal in the loss to Colorado, he also missed a 48-yarder in overtime that would have tied the game.
“It’s make or go home, and whether people expected me to make the kick or not, being in the position I was in, I hold myself to a high standard, went out there confident and expected to make the kick,” Armstrong said. “Unfortunately, we all know what happened.”
Special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt said the kicking spot remains a “big concern.” NU held a competition last week to see who’d replace Pickering after true freshman walk-on Dylan Jorgensen missed a field goal in the season opener.
Armstrong won the battle and did a pretty good job at kicker, Dewitt said.
“That was a tough situation for a guy to be in,” Dewitt said. Armstrong punted the ball well, and freshman William Przystup did well on kickoffs except for the last one, on which Laviska Shenault got a crack at a return.
Dewitt planned to stage a competition this week, too.
Pickering’s leg injury, Dewitt said, is the “craziest thing.”
“It’s like a pitcher’s arm — they have a kicking count,” Dewitt said. “We don’t exceed it. We’ve never exceeded it. It’s just one of those situations where you feel snakebit, to some degree.”
» Northern Illinois will run lots of triple-option concepts, Ruud said, which means defenders have to be especially disciplined with their reads.
"It's not like it's a team you check off the list," Ruud said. "They've got a lot of good players with a really good scheme behind it. So it's a big challenge for us."
» Chinander thought Nebraska tackled well in Game 1. Game 2 was a different story.
“There’s some unbelievable tackling, and there’s some times where I don’t know if they’re gassed or not, but there’s some times where it doesn’t look like anything we’ve drilled, anything we’ve ever done in practice and they whiff,” Chinander said. “It’s all technique issue on those missed tackles.”