- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Friday Q&A checks in with the Big Ten's No. 1 player in the preseason rankings, Nebraska standout defensive tackle Jared Crick. Nebraska opened its season with a 40-7 win against Chattanooga, and while the offense had some ups and downs, the defense performed as advertised.
Here are Crick's thoughts on Week 1, the depth of the Huskers' defensive line and what to expect Saturday night against Fresno State.
How did you feel about the defense's performance in the opener?
Jared Crick: I thought we played well, but after watching the film, I feel a whole lot better. I didn't see what I would want to see, but it's a good sign knowing what you've got to work on and knowing the exact points you've got to sharpen. We didn't play bad as a defensive front; we didn't play bad as a defense as a whole. I thought we played pretty well, it being our first time out there, but I'm definitely very excited after watching the film. In the past, you watch a game and you know you've got a whole lot to work on. Going into this week, we've just got to sharpen up a few things. And once we get that sharpened, we're going to be a whole lot better defense.
Are you ever worried to watch the film, even after a win?
JC: You're not worried, but you're always critical. You're always looking for the finer details, even if it's the littlest thing because sometimes that's what wins and loses games. You're very critical of yourself, you're very critical of your teammates. We played a good game. We only allowed seven points and that came on a bust on our part. But knowing the exact precise things we need to work on going into this next Saturday, it's very positive for us. It's a great feeling.
How much help will you have up front from guys like Cam [Meredith]?
JC: It was good, but we expect that of Cam. Now that Cam's healthy, he's got a year of experience under his belt and he did that all through fall camp, he made plays. So we expected that from him. But it was definitely nice to see him come out Saturday and just have fun. Last year, at times he worried a little too much about his responsibility instead of just relaxing and letting the game come to him. That's exactly what he did Saturday and he did a great job for us.
Did you expect him to score on the interception?
JC: I would have liked him to, but I'm just glad we got the turnover inside the 5. We always want to score as defensive linemen because we don't get that opportunity too much, but it was special enough that he got the pick.
Who else stood out to you along the defensive line?
JC: [Jason] Ankrah played well for us, his first start. This was really the cornerstone of his career of seeing how good he can really be, going against some different competition finally. This is only going to build his confidence throughout this year, and I expect big things from him. And also the new guys who played, Joe Carter, Eric Martin, Chase Rome. I saw a lot of good things out of T-Mo, Terrence Moore. I feel good knowing where we're at as a defensive line right now.
Did you feel Jason was coming on strong in camp? When did he turn the corner?
JC: Last spring he started to really come around. We asked him to gain a lot of weight. He came in at 240 and I think he's now up to 265, so he had to adjust to that weight change. He's playing a lot more physical. We saw it through this spring and he's progressed through the summer, into fall camp and definitely into the game. He's got to keep progressing.
You've only played one game, but do you have a sense of how offensive lines are going to approach you this year?
JC: Hard to say. Chattanooga ran a lot of two-step drop, they got rid of the ball quick. I saw a couple double-teams, slide pro. We saw it all, so we're going to watch the film again, see what kind of protections we didn't do so well on, what we did do well. We don't expect offenses to run the same kind of protection that Cam had pressure on, that I had a lot of pressure. We're looking for the protections we didn't do so well on. We're going to anticipate that a lot more and have to prepare for how to beat it.
You always sound so confident about the defense. Have you always been that way or do you feel it even more this year?
JC: I've always been confident in our defense, just knowing the kind of guys we have. We're a very selfless bunch, and we're very team-oriented. If we had a bunch of guys who only cared about their stats and about themselves, I'd be worried, but we don't have one guy like that on this defense. We're all out there playing for each other. That alone, and the camaraderie and chemistry, our success derives from that mainly. And we have great trust in coach Carl [Pelini], coach Bo [Pelini] and the scheme.
I've always been confident, but especially this year knowing that we have a lot of depth. When the starters need to get a blow, when they come off, we know the guys replacing them aren't going to let off at all. We can get a lot more guys some breathers when they need it.
There has been a lot of focus on your offense after the first game. You go against the offensive line in practice. How do you feel they're doing so far?
JC: They're coming around. They had a good fall camp. They have a lot of guys banged up, that's the thing, and they're starting to get healthy. Once they get to full strength again, they're a formidable bunch. We went through that during the spring, going against them at the beginning of fall camp, they were coming off the ball hard. I don't want to say their injuries are their crutch, but they're a very young bunch, they're just starting to get it.
Guys like Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez, Tyler Moore, that was their time really getting a lot of playing experience. So it's always good to get that first one under your belt and just progress from there. That's exactly what I expect them to do. I've seen them at full strength and they could possibly be one of the best O-lines in the country if they want to be. They've just got to keep progressing and keep getting better.
What are your thoughts on a Fresno State team that has made a habit out of beating teams from major conferences?
JC: We're expecting a fight. We know what they're about. They're a very blue-collar group. They pride themselves on the same thing we pride ourselves on, just playing tough football. We expect a fight to win this game, but we wouldn't want it any other way. We're very fortunate to be playing such a good team. This is exactly what we want. We don't want to play a bunch of small schools before going into Big Ten play. We want to be playing a high level of football, and Fresno State's going to force us to do that. And if we don't, bad things are going to happen for us. So it's going to be a fun game to play.