The early-season criticisms of Scott Frost are valid. His team has looked ill-prepared and the mistakes of past seasons have reared their ugly heads in a shaky 1-1 start.

But upon further review, the Nebraska defense deserves plenty of blame. A unit that showed consistency in 2021 has been exposed in 2 disappointing performances to start 2022. Missed tackles, missed assignments and blown coverages have been all too frequent. Erik Chinander’s crew must find their old selves before it’s too late.

The Huskers are giving up an average of 417 yards in 2 games. That’s 51 yards more a game than the 2021 Blackshirts allowed. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been challenging. Open field tackling’s been shoddy, and lack of  communication in the secondary has been evident.

So, why the regression in this year’s defensive unit? There are multiple areas of concern. Let’s take a deeper dive into the struggles.

Open-field tackling

Missed tackles showed up early last Saturday. Linebacker Ernest Hausmann and safety Miles Farmer, amongst others, had opportunities to put North Dakota ball carriers to the ground in the opening series. But missed tackles led to first downs and prolonged drives. It kept the Huskers’ defense on the field longer and ate up more clock. Precisely what the visitors were looking for.

Too many times, defenders found themselves in 1-on-1 situations and whiffed on tackles. Poor angles and over pursuing were culprits. Filling the correct run gap needs to improve. All areas Nebraska did well in 2021.

Yes, veteran linebacker Nick Henrich missed Saturday’s game with a minor injury. His 99 tackles in 2021 were 2nd on the team. But this was FCS North Dakota, not Oklahoma. The plethora of missed tackles and opportunities to get off the field are concerning. Luke Reimer needs to find his 2021 mojo. Nebraska must tackle better in space, especially with more talented opponents on the horizon.

Winning the battle at the point-of-attack

Not only did Nebraska surrender a pair of 11-point leads in a Week 0 loss to Northwestern, the Huskers got beat up front. The Wildcats and All-America tackle Peter Skoronski paved the way for 214 yards on the ground. More of the same occurred Saturday in Lincoln. The Blackshirts were gouged for 175 rush yards, and gave up an average of 5.3 yards a carry against the Fighting Hawks.

Nebraska’s front 4 must create more havoc. Plugging gaps, getting pressure, etc. It’s been few and far between through 2 weeks. The Huskers have recorded just 2 sacks (one each by Garrett Nelson and Ochaun Mathis) and it took into the 3rd quarter of Game 2 before getting one. Northwestern quarterback Ryan Hilinski’s jersey was stain-free in Dublin.

Defending the run has been poor as well. On too many occasions, Nebraska knew the opponent was going to run. Too often it’s failed to defend it. Not stopping the run has led to losing the time of possession battle. North Dakota held the ball for over 36 minutes. Northwestern ran the ball the final 15 plays – many when everyone in the stadium knew they would – to seal its win in Ireland.

Nebraska needs more from Ty Robinson, Colton Feist, Stephon Wynn Jr. and others on the defensive line. Sure, they’ve made some good plays, but more consistency and physicality up front is what wins in the Big Ten.

Tackles for losses have been rare. Only 6 have been made for a total of 18 yards in losses. Nebraska’s had its share of opportunities for these. But bad angles and whiffs have happened with too much frequency. Does Alabama, Georgia or Ohio State miss as many? Of course not. Nebraska’s not close to that level, but taking advantage of those opportunities puts your opponent behind the sticks. Long down and distance situations are what Chinander’s group thrived on a year ago.

Secondary breakdowns

Communication on the back end must improve. Nebraska’s been OK in that area, but stiffer challenges remain. Northwestern’s first touchdown a week ago was the result of a blown assignment. The Cats’ Raymond Niro III was basically unguarded on the 41-yard TD catch. Opposing receivers can’t run wide open all day.

Through 2 games, Nebraska hasn’t recorded an interception. Forcing turnovers has been a challenge for the Blackshirts, but finding ways to get 1 or 2 a game is a must moving forward. Opponents have picked off Casey Thompson 3 times and Nebraska is down 5-2 in the turnover battle.

The Huskers must also be better in run support from the secondary. Filling and tackling must improve. Several times, NU defenders flew up from the secondary but failed to finish the play.

Nebraska is still showing its youth on the back end. This is a group that should continue to grow and improve. Expect growing pains early, but continued development each week. Quinton Newsome and Tommi Hill (Arizona State transfer) have found their way at cornerback. Marques Buford Jr. is 2nd on the team with 12 tackles. Isaac Gifford had 7 tackles from the nickel spot. There’s promise with this group.

Veteran leadership

Co-captains Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor definitely stepped up their performances against the Fighting Hawks. Along with getting more pressure on the quarterback, the duo was disruptive at the point of attack.

More will be needed from them in the coming weeks. Nelson, at times, looked like his old self — flying all over the field with high energy while recording 8 tackles. If the defense is to turn the corner, expect these two to lead the charge.

With Henrich back in the mix and the freshman Hausmann getting meaningful reps, the linebacking corps should get better. Reimer has been subpar by his standards. He must find his groove along with Henrich returning to the tackling machine he was a year ago for the defense to start really clicking.

Another test awaits Saturday night. Clay Helton brings Georgia Southern to Lincoln for a nighttime kick. The Eagles have plenty of athletes to test the Blackshirts, and Chinander wants to see his group clean up the sloppy play before Oklahoma comes calling Sept. 17.

Sure, Frost’s hot seat will get the majority of the media’s attention. But if the defense doesn’t get its act together soon, it won’t matter what Frost, Mark Whipple and the offensive staff cook up in the coming weeks.