Nebraska football fans, like all fans, are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to watching a spring game. If one side of the ball does well, should they be happy about the success or concerned about the weakness of the other side of the ball?
For Nebraska, things looked achingly similar on the field to the end of 2012. Nebraska’s offense looked smooth and powerful, racking up a total of 705 yards. And Nebraska’s defense looked overmatched, with the Red squad surrendering a disturbing 8.4 yards per play.
There were a number of entries on the stat sheet that should give cause for concern to Nebraska fans. Nebraska’s top three quarterbacks (Taylor Martinez, Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong) went a combined 24-of-29 for 355 yards and three touchdowns.
Throughout the game, Nebraska’s defense only had one pass breakup—from linebacker Trevor Roach. Neither squad’s defense forced a turnover. The White team’s leading tackler was Colby Starkebaum, who (no disrespect intended) is unlikely to see significant playing time this fall.
But the most disturbing thing about the game regarding the defense might be an anecdote. On Taylor Martinez’s touchdown pass, he hit his receiver over the middle, who proceeded to run away from players like Jared Afalava and Corey Cooper—players who will be pushing for starting roles—on his way to a 45-yard touchdown.
That player who outran Afalava and Cooper to the end zone? C.J. Zimmerer, one of Nebraska’s fullbacks. Hello, red flag.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Blackshirts. The overall leading tackler was senior linebacker Trevor Roach with 10 tackles. If Roach can establish himself in the starting lineup, he will give Nebraska a boost of experience that was not expected.
Nebraska also had six sacks, although some of those came late in the game against quarterbacks like Tyson Broekemeier and Ryker Fyfe.
Nebraska had seven tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman linebacker Thomas Brown looked effective when attacking the opposing backfield, and junior linebacker Zaire Anderson seemed able to get from sideline to sideline well and cover space.
There’s also quite a bit of cavalry coming.
Sophomore linebacker David Santos, who earned a great deal of playing time towards the end of 2012, sat out the spring game with injury. Freshmen linebackers Jason Banderas and Marcus Newby will be arriving on campus this fall and early enrollee freshman linebacker Courtney Love got some valuable on-field experience at the spring game.
Senior cornerback Mohammed Seisay looks fully healed from the injury that hindered him throughout last season.
But a lot of the same issues that plagued Nebraska’s defense reared their heads on Saturday.
Many times, Nebraska would bring an all-out rush on defense, only for the quarterback to find a safety-valve receiver and gain solid yardage. Receivers would be able to create mismatches with linebackers in man coverage, leading to big gains or scores. The defense looked painfully incapable of creating turnovers.
So, how will Nebraska's defense be compared to last year?
Now, of course, this is just a scrimmage at the end of spring practice, and much of the defensive scheme was very vanilla. Many of the players on defense were inexperienced as well, and the repetitions from spring practice should serve as a foundation for them going into the fall.
Again, the best advice for the Children of the Corn watching the spring game is to not freak out. It’s one practice.
But having said that, there was precious little on display this Saturday in Lincoln to fill Nebraska fans with confidence about a Blackshirt renaissance this season.
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