WKU Defensive Coordinator Clint Bowen knows Nebraska all too well.
After spending the last four years as defensive coordinator at Kansas and 12 total years as an assistant on the Jayhawks’ staff, Bowen’s as familiar with Nebraska Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson as anyone.
But even he’s having a hard time nailing down the Huskers before Saturday’s meeting in Lincoln, Neb.
“We’ve gone against each other quite a few times,” Bowen said of Watson. “Nebraska has a little bit of an identity problem with offense. Last year, they were a spread offense, then they put as many big humans on the field as they could and tried to run you over for a few weeks. Then in the Big 12 championship and bowl game, they became a spread offense again.”
Bowen’s Kansas squad routed Nebraska, 76-39, in 2007 but fell short the past two years. Although that Big 12 rivalry is behind Bowen, junior defensive end Jared Clendenin said he still sees the same competitive spirit from his coach.
“They got him the last couple times, so he’s ready to get that win against Nebraska,” Clendenin said. “He hasn’t had that in a minute, but he’s got good knowledge, so that’s helping us.”
Nebraska’s 2009 scoring defense — best in the nation at 10.4 points per game — overshadowed the fact that their offense wasn’t really that successful.
Nebraska finished 75th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in offensive scoring last year, but Bowen said you can’t be fooled by the numbers.
“I think deep down, they want to spread the ball around and get it to their receivers, and run the ball out of more of a one-back-type offense,” Bowen said. “They know in the back of their minds they can always put a fullback and big people back there and run the ball as well. They’re a tough bunch to stop.”
Head Coach Willie Taggart described Bowen’s familiarity with Nebraska as a “win-lose situation.” Although Nebraska will know what Bowen likes to do, Taggart said he’s still more comfortable having someone on staff who knows what to expect.
“He’s been doing it every other year, going into Lincoln,” Taggart said. “If there’s anyone that knows them well, it’s Coach Bowen, and it helps us as a staff and as a team understand what it’s going to take. I think it’s always good to have someone like that so there won’t be any surprises.”
Nebraska will undoubtedly prepare for the 4-3 defensive scheme that Bowen brought with him from Kansas. The new defense has been a hit with the Toppers so far, but Bowen said he'll be its biggest fan if it alters the team's dynamic.
“If you can get to the quarterback with four guys, it changes the game of football,” Bowen said. “It’s key. If you’ve got to bring a fifth guy, obviously it starts opening weaknesses somewhere else, so if those guys can get there with four of them, it’ll really help us defensively.”
But Bowen isn't one to be sold so easily. There's no better test of how much a unit's learned during fall camp than stepping on the field on game day, he said.
And game days don't get much bigger than this.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Bowen said. “Are we ready? We’ll find out on Saturday if we go out on the field and do all the things that we’ve talked about and all the things we’ve practiced.
“We just keep encouraging them and pushing them, but we’ll find out who’s ready to step up and play.”