It’s a mostly meaningless exhibition that’s officially a practice...but that doesn’t stop fans from inferring some meaning anyway.
First, the usual disclaimer: Now that Spring games are televised, it’s way too easy to read too much into the spring game. The playbook is dialed way-down while the matchups are set up to make the starters look good. The idea of the game is to entertain your fans and recruits, not challenge the team. Heck, some schools don’t even have a spring game anymore; they just have an open practice.
Because so much of the game was mix-and-match of starters and reserves, I’ve given up on grading positions in the spring game. There really isn’t much of a baseline you can work from as players rotate in and out of the game. So here’s my thoughts as to where Nebraska’s reconstruction project stands after 14 spring practices. (The team will practice on Monday, so spring football isn’t over yet.) I don’t think Scott Frost has any intention of making any firm decisions now, but he will let players know where they stand and what they need to do this summer. For some, that means working on specific skills; for others, it might mean thinking about doing something else or doing this somewhere else. I’m not going to speculate on that, but Frost appears to be overextended on scholarships going into the Fall.
QB: Adrian Martinez didn’t play like a high school senior; he looks like a guy who could start against Akron. However, I think Tristan Gebbia also looked the part as well. Gebbia’s opening toss to Jaevon McQuitty was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty on left tackle Brenden Jaimes. The two players do different things well, so Frost may need to prioritize what skills he wants on the field. Martinez proved he can throw the ball well, and frankly, Gebbia looked better running the ball than his stat sheet showed thanks to three sacks. Andrew Bunch looked like he could be serviceable this fall, while Noah Vedral gave no indication that he could contribute if the NCAA grants him eligibility this fall.
I-Back: I thought Mikale Wilbon looked pretty good in the first half while Greg Bell really got into a groove in the second half. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bell started the season opener, but in this Offense, multiple running backs will be necessary. Wilbon indicated that Frost is looking to have him split time with Tyjon Lindsey at the slot-back position, much like how UCF used Otis Anderson last season. Devine Ozigbo did have a couple of nice power runs up the middle, while Jaylin Bradley didn’t do much in his playing time. Wyatt Mazour’s 43-yard touchdown run was the longest run we’ve seen from a Husker in nearly two seasons; I think he’ll have a role this fall.
Wide Receivers: With Stanley Morgan and J.D. Spielman sitting out the game, it was time for McQuitty and JUCO transfer Mike Williams to shine...and shine they did. I think we also got a good feel for what Tyjon Lindsey can do in this offense. Freshman tight end Austin Allen looks like a keeper as well; in this offense, it appears tight ends are going to be used more as another wide receiver than as duct tape to help fix bad offensive line play.
Offensive Line: This looks like a work-in-progress. Several snaps were mishandled, though having last year’s top two centers sidelined helps explain things. And starting the game with a penalty on the first play is a bad omen. Pass protection appears a bit sketchy, but the run blocking appeared to be better than last year. (How could it get any worse?)
Defensive Line: At first look, Peyton Newell and DaiShon Neal looked a lot more like the guys the recruitniks salivated over when they chose Nebraska than they ever have in their time in Lincoln. Neal blew through Jerald Foster on a sack of Gebbia faster than anybody in recent memory that doesn’t have a last name pronounced like “Sue”.
Linebackers: Alex Davis is another guy who’s benefiting from a reset on defense; three sacks and an interception were a nice contribution on the field. Other guys that caught my eye were Will Honas and Dedrick Young. (I gotta admit that Frost’s tempo was my enemy evaluating the defense, because I learned I couldn’t look away to watch replays to get a better read on who did what.)
Secondary: While the stat sheet didn’t reflect it, Lamar Jackson seems to be getting the hang of the college game out there. Depth was an issue, and one guy that may benefit is redshirt freshman walk-on Ethan Cox from Blair. Marquel Dismuke had some tough play as well.
Special Teams: Not much to evaluate here; no returns on punts. Both placekickers missed kicks, though Barrett Pickering’s was the result of a botched snap. That’s something that will get worked on all summer long.
Overall: Scott Frost’s new offense is going to be so much fun to watch due to the speed and variety of things he’ll throw at a defense. For those of us who got tired of the previous regime’s constipated offense, this is like being released from prison and being sent to a five-star Caribbean resort to feast.
Only a 2 play drive after the turnover, but there was a LOT going on in those plays. This offense is differential calculus compared to last year’s remedial algebra.— Husker Mike (@Husker_Mike) April 21, 2018
Husker fans are starving for some decent football, and the 2018 spring game gave us some tantalizing appetizers. Let’s not prematurely claim that Nebraska is back, but it looks like the Huskers are out of the ditch and back on the road to recovery.
A few other thoughts:
11 am starting time. No. Husker fans sent a message last season that fan support is not something that can be just taken for granted. Everybody saw the empty seats last fall. So why in the world did NU decide to schedule this game with an 11 am kickoff? Don’t use the BTN schedule as an excuse; put the game on tape delay. (It’s been on tape-delay the last two seasons.) Don’t fall into the trap of “Nebraska fans will come whenever” because you can only push things so far.
No Sirius? The tunnel walk just seemed odd without the sounds of the Alan Parsons Project. I get that some feel it’s gotten tired, but we don’t go around replacing “Hail Varsity” or “There Is No Place Like Nebraska” either. The last few years, using Sirius for just the actual walk and using something else for the leadup was a nice balance between wanting something fresh and keeping the tradition in place. Tradition is a part of Nebraska football, and when we are trying to re-embrace great traditions with Scott Frost’s return, why do this?
Memorial Stadium Dance Club It was really weird having the background music playing during the game; frankly, I thought it was holding down the crowd noise. At first, I thought it was a carryover from practices where they play music to simulate the distractions that an actual crowd noise. But then I realized that this couldn’t be the players choices for music. Turns out NU brought in a Vegas DJ for the game, fresh off an appearance in Milan, Italy.
Today I became a fan of @nebraska_football @huskers Thank you for inviting me to DJ at your 2018 Sold Out Spring Game
Not sure that was the best use of Jim Delany’s new television money.