On Saturday, Nebraska will be paying $600,000 to Idaho State for a schedule-filler game against an FCS team that has won eight games in the last five years. Unless something completely unexpected (and disastrous for Nebraska fans) occurs, NU should win the game comfortably and put the game out of reach early.
But that doesn’t mean the game will provide nothing to watch for the Children of the Corn. For a number of players, the Idaho State contest provides an opportunity to either cement a place in the starting lineup or make a case for more playing time. So, as you watch what is likely to be a non-competitive game between two mismatched teams, here are a few players to keep an eye on.
Mike Marrow and C.J. Zimmerer
Marrow’s arrival as a transfer was heralded by many as having great potential for Nebraska. His size, speed and pedigree suggested he might provide a powerful between-the-tackles runner to balance out some of Nebraska’s speedier edge runners.
Unfortunately, in the first three games, Marrow has not delivered as the starting fullback. He has struggled with his blocking assignments, and has not provided the punch expected from him carrying the ball. Zimmerer has started to eat into his playing time, to the point where Marrow and Zimmerer are now listed as co-starters on the depth chart. The fullback position is in complete flux at this point, and Marrow and Zimmerer will both have their chances to audition for playing time.
Braylon Heard and Imani Cross
With the return of Rex Burkhead, the carries for Nebraska running backs are going to thin out. Ameer Abdullah has likely done enough over the last three weeks to stake a claim for carries and playing time even with Burkhead’s return. But Braylon Heard and Imani Cross are both in a position where their already-small playing time could be further diminished. Heard has shown a willingness to sacrifice for the team, moving to defensive back during the offseason then back to running back when the need arose. He has also shown flashes of real ability, although he has also struggled at times.
Cross, a true freshman, offers size and power in a change of pace from smaller backs like Abdullah and Heard. But the coaches have already burned Cross’ redshirt, meaning it is now necessary to continue his development with some meaningful game experience.
In his short career at Nebraska, Jamal Turner might be the most enigmatic and frustrating player (apart from Taylor Martinez, perhaps) on the squad. With the ball in his hands, Turner has demonstrated shiftiness and explosiveness that can change the course of a game. But he has also demonstrated a maddening inability to consistently catch the ball and to run the correct route or to comprehend an audible to the correct play.
Understandably, Nebraska fans want to see more of the “good” Turner they have seen before. Coaches, however, fear the results of the “bad” Turner will cost Nebraska yards, drives and ultimately games.
So, in a game like Idaho State where a number of players should get a chance to see the field, Turner has a unique opportunity to execute well and foster some confidence in him with the coaching staff.
After Nebraska’s 653-yard defensive meltdown against UCLA, the coaches made a decision to get more speed on to the field. Zaire Anderson and David Santos were beneficiaries of that decision, to the point where both were listed along with Alonzo Whaley as co-starters at the WILL linebacker spot.
So, who will gain the most from the Idaho State game?
Unfortunately, during the week Anderson was declared lost for the season due to an ACL tear that occurred (amazingly enough) during practice before the Arkansas State game. Anderson’s loss is a significant blow to Nebraska’s overall depth at linebacker. However, it does provide an opportunity for Santos to establish himself at the position, particularly in circumstances where Nebraska will not be facing a slower and more power-based offense.
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