LINCOLN — Chalk up another strong game for redshirt freshman defensive tackle Carlos Davis. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Davis is playing “much more responsible” in his three career starts. Davis is starting because sophomore tackle Mick Stoltenberg continues to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery that limits the number of snaps he can play.
“In the summer maybe there was some angst with him going in the wrong direction or getting out of his gap trying to make a play over, so the (run) fit by the ’backer was off,” Banker said. “He’s really matured at this point in time, and I just hope he continues to grow because he’s playing really well.”
Banker called Davis a “world-class athlete” and Stoltenberg “a mountain of a man.” Those two, along with Kevin Maurice, have helped the Huskers replace two defensive tackles — Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine — who are rookies playing prominent roles on NFL teams.
“They made the NFL, and they’re doing well obviously,” Banker said. “We played with Valentine for six games last year and there were times I didn’t see anything in him. I didn’t think his work ethic was going to — it was in question. He’s with the perfect team.”
That’d be the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.
“Belichick won’t let him take one second off,” Banker said. “And he’s into it.”
Collins, who played for the Cowboys, “had all the talent there was in the world” but could be “a little bit of a maverick” for the Huskers, Banker said. Collins was very good, Banker said, when he was on assignment.
NU linemen gear up for ‘big dudes’
Nebraska defensive linemen have taken note of the Illinois size they will see on Saturday.
“They got some big dudes up front, very athletic,” Maurice said. “Everybody’s physical up front.”
Every Illinois offensive lineman is listed between 6-foot-4 and 6-6, and each is 300 pounds or more. The leader is 6-5, 300-pound Christian DiLauro at right tackle, but the Illini were ranked as the No. 13 line in the Big Ten in Phil Steele’s football preview.
“Just a really big, physical bunch,” Stoltenberg said. “So we definitely have to make sure that we’re working hard getting our hands getting extension on them, because they’ll drive you off the ball if they get a hold of you.”
Stoltenberg has been inching back into the rotation since missing the Wyoming game.
“It was rough sitting out that Wyoming game and kind of being limited these last two weeks,” Stoltenberg said, “but it’s definitely a blessing that it wasn’t a more severe injury.”
Maurice aims for another strong game
Maurice had his breakout game last year at Illinois, finishing with eight tackles in his first career start.
But his foot was hurting afterward, and the injury turned out to be bad enough that Maurice missed three midseason games just as he was feeling good about his progress.
“I didn’t know to what extent it was,” he said, “but I knew something was wrong.”
That performance doesn’t mean much this week when the Illini visit Memorial Stadium, he said, calling it a “whole different ballgame, whole different team, whole different system.” Nor does he make much of any extra incentive for Nebraska after that 14-13 loss.
“It’s not like a revenge game or anything like that,” Maurice said. “We’re just trying to do what we’ve been doing for the last four games, and continue to play well.”
» Banker said Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt is a “big, strong guy” with a high pass completion rate with a “good corps of receivers.”
The Illini, Banker said, like to go “up top” and throw deep passes.
“We’ll see what we’re made of a little bit more in this game right here,” Banker said.
» Illinois’ offensive linemen tend to flip from left to right from play to play. Banker said the habit can sometimes tip a defense off to the coming play.