Nebraska has been on a ride ever since Scott Frost took the reins of the program entering 2018. Unfortunately, that ride has been mostly devoid of positive impressions with a 5-7 record in 2019 the high-water mark to this point.

Fortunately, Frost took the seriousness of the situation coming off a 3-9 season to revamp his offensive staff in a near-complete overhaul. The other good news for the Huskers is that the defense showed big leaps forward in 2021.

Last season, Nebraska allowed an average of 22.7 points per game, nearly a full touchdown jump from the 2020 performance and the best mark of Frost’s tenure. That mark ranked 36th nationally as the Huskers held 6 opponents to 26 points or less. Unfortunately, that included losses to Ohio State, Michigan State and Oklahoma by a total of 19 points.

Heading into 2022, Nebraska is banking on the offense being better. But in order for those improvements to make a big impact, it is up to the defense to hold serve — or be even better.

With that in mind, here is a preview of where the Huskers stand defensively for 2022.

Pressuring the QB: Better

After a 20-sack season in 2021 (a mark that finished 3rd-worst in the B1G), Nebraska’s pass-rush appears poised for a strong showing in 2022. That perception comes from a combination of key returnees and one big pickup via the transfer portal.

Garrett Nelson — the team’s leading sack-getter and leader in TFL (5 and 11.5, respectively) — returns. Fellow outside linebacker Caleb Tannor is back after 5.5 TFL and 2 sacks in 2021.

Along the defensive front, Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers also return. Those two combined for 7 TFL and 2.5 sacks in 2021 and will get some help for this season.

Out of the transfer portal, Nebraska pulled DL Stephon Wynn (from Alabama) and Devin Drew (from Texas Tech). And also out of the portal came arguably the key to Nebraska’s pass-rush in Edge prospect Ochaun Mathis out of TCU.

Mathis had a productive career at TCU with 26 TFL and 12.5 sacks, with most of that production coming between 2019-21. But with one more season in college, Mathis arrives in Lincoln looking to anchor the pass-rush and try to build his draft stock for the NFL.

Run defense: Better

Nebraska’s run defense in 2021 was not bad, but it was middle of the road. The Huskers gave up 146.9 rushing yards per game, a mark that ranked 8th in the B1G, with opponents picking up 4.2 yards per carry. Those numbers should be better in 2022.

The defensive front has already been addressed above and should be just fine. When it comes to the linebacker position, Nebraska also returns a lot of production and experience.

The team’s top two tacklers from 2021 — Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich — are both back for 2022. Combined, that duo produced 207 total tackles. Reimer led the way with 108 while also forcing 3 fumbles.

Garrett Nelson — the team’s leader in TFL at 11.5 last season — is also back and should be primed for a big season. The biggest lost here is the versatile JoJo Domann, who was third on the team with 71 total tackles and second with 9 TFL in 2021, but it’s possible Domann’s departure is felt more in the passing game than in the ground game.

Pass defense: Worse

Trying to determine Nebraska’s defense is a mixed bag. The ability to get after the passer should be better for the Huskers in 2022. However, the coverage on the backend must replace some key pieces.

The team must replace the team’s leaders in passes defended and interceptions in Deontai Williams and Cam Taylor-Britt, respectively. Williams led the way with 4 interceptions while Taylor-Britt had 11 passes defended.

Also gone from the defense is Domann, a versatile defender who was able to help stop the run and also proved to be efficient in coverage. Domann added 2 interceptions and 3 passes defended in coverage for the Huskers in 2021.

Those departures will be felt in 2022, and it is worth noting that the passing defense of Nebraska was not terribly efficient in 2021. The Huskers allowed opposing QBs to complete 64.6% of passes, a mark that was only better than Michigan State and Northwestern last season.

Nebraska’s pass rush should help protect the secondary at times, but there are question marks on the back end of the defense heading into 2022.

Special Teams: Needs to be better

Special teams. Two words that strike fear into the heart of Huskers fans everywhere. Nebraska will have a new punter in 2022, but that is more of a blessing than anything else for Scott Frost’s squad.

During 2021, Nebraska used 2 punters who combined for an average of 40.3 yards per punt.

Covering those punts was also an issue. Nebraska ranked dead last in the conference with an average of 35.5 net yards per punt.

To help the punting game, Nebraska once again hit the transfer portal. Nebraska landed FCS Punter of the Year Brian Buschini out of Montana and Jacob Hohl, a punter out of Division III Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Those two will likely be in competition for the starting punting job, but Buschini likely has a leg up, pun intended. Buschini was first-team All-Big Sky and an FCS first-team All-American in 2021 while averaging 46 yards on 69 punts.

Buschini’s season included a mind-blowing 28 punts that traveled 50+ yards, 30 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, 25 fair catches and just 4 touchbacks.

With the addition of Buschini — and promotion of Bill Busch to full-time special teams coordinator — Nebraska has a legitimate chance to turn special teams from a liability to a weapon in short order. Doing a better job in kick and punt coverage will only aid the defense as teams face tougher field position.

Overall: Better

At the end of the day, Nebraska’s 22.7 points per game allowed in 2021 was nothing to sneeze at. (That mark ranked 36th nationally.) However, the defense does have a shot to be even better in 2022.

Even with some new faces and adjustments to the defensive backfield, the front 7 should be solid across the board. That should help the run defense be better and help set the tone in early-down situations.

Those early stops should set the stage for an improved pass rush. And when the Nebraska offense is forced to punt, the Huskers should have the personnel to force teams to march the length of the field on a regular basis.