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Red Report: Husker offense preps for Diaco's defense; Betts and Daniels seeing their stock rise

Red Report: Husker offense preps for Diaco's defense; Betts and Daniels seeing their stock rise

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When Nebraska takes the field Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana, it will match up against a Purdue defense that doesn't give up a lot of big plays.

That's what stands out to Matt Lubick, the Huskers' first-year offensive coordinator, when he looks at the tape.

Pulling the defensive strings for the Boilermakers is Bob Diaco, who was Mike Riley's defensive coordinator at Nebraska in 2017 before Bill Moos went another direction with the program.

Purdue ranks 61st nationally in total defense in its first season with Diaco, giving up 404.5 yards a game (down from 436.3 last year), and it ranks 45th in scoring defense (26.2).

"They're definitely improved from last year statistically," Lubick told reporters following Tuesday's practice. "They take pride in not giving up big plays.

"(Diaco) gives you different looks, but he keeps those looks sound where they're not going to give up big plays."

Scott Frost and crew have seen a Diaco-led defense before. Frost was in his first season at Central Florida in 2016 when the Golden Knights defeated UConn, then coached by Diaco, 24-16.

"We talked a little bit before the game, talked to him a few times," NU defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. "We've had friendly conversations most of the time, and that's about it."

Purdue is coming off a 37-30 loss to Rutgers. The Boilermakers gave up 412 total yards, including 236 passing yards in defeat. They're 91st nationally in pass defense.

Moving forward: Lubick coaches the Husker wide receivers, and it was his room that lost a scholarship player this week when true freshman Marcus Fleming made known his intentions to transfer.

The wideouts are pushing forward, Lubick said.

"To be honest, it doesn't really affect our room," he said. "We're going to coach the guys that are here and push them to be the best they can possibly be, and I think our players understand that."

Betts' growth: Among the young receivers taking advantage of playing time is true freshman Zavier Betts, who made his first career start Friday at Iowa.

Lubick said the 6-2, 200-pound Bellevue West graduate is gradually getting better.

"I do think when we got into some game action and got some confidence and had a little success in the Penn State game, I think that gave him more confidence, and just knowing what it takes to play at this level," Lubick said of Betts, who scored on a 45-yard fly sweep against Penn State. "He gets better every day in practice."

Betts has six catches for 95 yards (15.8 per catch) this season.

Daniels stepping up: Statistically, Damion Daniels had his best game as a Husker, finishing with a career-best five tackles Friday at Iowa. The 6-3, 335-pound junior defensive tackle has 10 tackles over the past three games and is seeing his reps count increase.

"I thought he played a really good football game (at Iowa)," Chinander said. "He was physical, he did a nice job in the middle all day for us."

Daniels' contributions have been key for a Husker defensive line that had to work in mostly new players this season after the departures of Khalil and Carlos Davis and Darrion Daniels, Damion's older brother.

Daniels played 44 snaps against the Hawkeyes, according to Pro Football Focus, 21 more than his previous season high.

"He's getting to where he can play more plays in a row, which is what he needed to do," Chinander said.

Allen "good to go": Nebraska junior tight end Austin Allen took quite a hit during the final drive of Friday's game at Iowa, getting slammed to the turf in the process.

Lubick said Allen is "good to go" and had a great practice Tuesday.

That's a good sign for the Huskers because Allen has emerged as one of their primary pass catchers. The Aurora graduate is second on the team in receptions (14) and second in receiving yards (169), and he hauled in an acrobatic catch during the first half against the Hawkeyes that moved the chains.

"The reason that he makes big plays in the games is because he makes them in practice and it carries over," Lubick said. "I know quarterbacks like throwing to him because he has a big catch radius."

Urgency this week? With Minnesota, the Huskers' Dec. 12 opponent, dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak within its football program, it's possible Nebraska may lose another game due to the virus.

Is that motivating players to play with greater effort this week knowing this could be their final regular-season game?

"I think if we've got to tell that this might be it so we need our best effort, we've probably got the wrong guys," Chinander said. "It should be your best effort every time you go out there."

Chinander said his focus is on Purdue and not what's going on at Minnesota.

"But our guys are just ready to play and they've been wanting to play every game," he added. "It hasn't bounced our way some of the times, but these kids wanted to play football at the beginning of the year, and Coach Frost obviously fought to get them to play football."

Clark Grell

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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