Barrett Ruud’s two starters combined for 207 tackles last season. In a sense, it might have benefited Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich — and NU’s defense — if they had fewer.
Ruud said Thursday that his dynamic duo, who comprise one of the Big Ten’s best inside linebacker units, probably played too many snaps last season, and it showed as both wore down toward the end of a brutish schedule.
“I need to rotate (backups) in a little bit more,” Ruud said.
Of course, it’s a little hard to take two of the best defenders on the team off the field against Michigan or Ohio State, right?
“It’s hard but, at the same time, it’s a necessity,” Ruud said. “Those are the games where it is really critical. Every play is critical in the Big Ten, but especially when you start playing the real high-level-type teams, you’ve got to count on your guys, and you’ve got to trust them.”
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A fifth-year senior and a true freshman appear to be earning Ruud’s trust the most.
On the older end, Eteva Mauga-Clements, who blitzed nearly every play in junior college, has settled into learning the position at Nebraska and made, Ruud said, a jump in his skill level and knowledge of the game. Mauga-Clements — whom most called “Va” — has moved beyond the entry-level questions about alignment to “400-level” questions about specific plays, such as a Michigan power run.
“When you start getting big picture stuff,” Ruud said. “And I always think of good defense, is understanding your own problems. So he’s really starting to understand each position, each technique, each situation has different issues that come up. He’s starting to see those.”
At 6-1, 220 pounds, Mauga-Clements most fits the size profile of the 6-1, 225-pound Reimer. Their games, Reimer said, are similar, too.
“He’s definitely not the biggest guy, but he’s really fast and he just finds the ball,” said Reimer, who had spring surgeries on his hip and for a sports hernia. “He times up blitzes extremely well – he’s probably the best in the room at it – so I would say he’s pretty similar to me.”
The new star on the block, Ernest Hausmann, is also gifted at rushing the passer.
An early enrollee who impressed coaches in the spring, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder took another jump over the summer and appears squarely in the mix for both special teams and defensive play. The four-game redshirt rule has tended to give NU coaches pause on playing a true freshman for full season — Reimer did it, as did Quinton Newsome and Garrett Nelson, in 2019 — but Hausmann is earning praise at a high rate.
“When your intangibles are better than your athleticism, and your athleticism is already extremely high, it’s exciting,” Ruud said. Hausmann’s athleticism, Ruud said, makes him a “shiny car” because he looks the part and can fill a variety of roles, including pass rusher. Hausmann is roughly the same size as edge rusher Caleb Tannor.
“It’s really, really natural for him,” Ruud said of Hausmann’s ability to “flip his hips” like a defensive end can. Which is not the case for a lot of linebackers. I’ve been around a lot of great linebackers who were bad pass rushers. He has a natural feel to rush the passer.”
York graduate Garrett Snodgrass, Ruud said, is in the mix, as well.
Ultimately whether Mauga-Clements, Hausmann and Snodgrass depends on Ruud, who needs to insert them into games — even big games — when Reimer and Henrich need a rest. Ruud said he’ll do it.
“That keeps the competition fresh, too,” Ruud said. “If you get a guy breathing down your neck, that’s good for everybody.”