Nebraska football fans did not have to contend with a lightning storm this year, and were able to see the annual Red-White game on Saturday in Memorial Stadium. The fans saw many of the returning stars for a few plays, and got a good look at who they hope to be the stars of the future for Nebraska.
So who stood out? Who were the heroes in April that may or may not translate into heroes this fall? Here are five winners and losers from this year’s version of the Red-White game.
When Ameer Abdullah was held out of spring practice with an injury, most thought that backup I-back Imani Cross would be the biggest beneficiary. And certainly Cross had his time in the sun, playing most of the game with the Red squad alongside Taylor Martinez and Tommy Armstrong.
But the redshirt freshmen walk-on running backs really had a chance this spring to make a name for themselves before 4-star recruits Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor arrive on campus. And it was King Frazier who seized his opportunity, leading the White team with 67 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.
This fall, Nebraska’s depth at I-back should be pretty good. But at least based on the spring game’s performance, Frazier may have earned himself a role this fall.
Nebraska had a lot of work to do in replacing linebackers, so there were a lot of spots available.
Redshirt freshman Jared Afalava was one of those players vying for a spot, and did not cover himself in glory at the spring game. Playing for the White team, Afalava only had two tackles, and found himself (unsuccessfully) chasing down fullback C.J. Zimmerer on Taylor Martinez’s touchdown pass.
That's not the best way to make a case for a starter’s role, especially with 4-star recruits Josh Banderas and Marcus Newby set to arrive this fall and make the competition even fiercer.
Just before the spring game, there were reports that Alonzo Moore wasn’t going to be available to play. That was a shame, as observed by one smart and particularly handsome analyst, because Moore was getting a lot of buzz as a potential breakout candidate amongst the young wide receivers.
Well, Moore got his shot on the field. And he delivered, getting two catches for 59 yards, including a nifty 37-yard touchdown grab in traffic.
Nebraska’s wide receiver corps will be crowded in 2013. Returning starters Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner and Quincy Enunwa look entrenched in their positions. And strong showings from Alonzo Moore, Jordan Westerkamp, Jared Blume and Brandon Reilly on Saturday demonstrated the depth of the squad behind those players.
So missing the spring game, as Taariq Allen and Tyler Wullenwaber did due to injury, can’t do anything but damage their ability to carve a place for themselves on the depth chart this fall.
Most people assume that redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong will become Taylor Martinez’s backup this season. And while that’s a legitimate expectation, senior Ron Kellogg III may have thrown a bit of a wrench into those plans. As the starter for the White team, Kellogg looked efficient and confident leading his team down the field for a 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
Kellogg ended the day going 11-for-12 for 148 yards and one touchdown. And while he’ll never pull off a highlight-reel run like Martinez did against Wisconsin, Kellogg showed enough elusiveness to extend plays in the pocket.
Yes, it’s just spring practice. But on Saturday’s evidence, maybe Kellogg can have a role to play in the 2013 season that doesn’t involve a clipboard. After all, another backup quarterback who wore No. 12 and wasn't given much credit did fine.
(And don’t worry, Tommy Armstrong fans. There’s a whole article about what an amazing future Armstrong looks to have as the Nebraska signal-caller. No, we didn’t forget about him.)
For the most part, Nebraska’s quarterbacks had a good day at the spring game on Saturday. When you combine the statistics of Taylor Martinez, Ron Kellogg III, and Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska’s quarterbacks went 24-for-29 for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, some of that was a vanilla defensive plan—although not free from quarterback pressure against any QB not named Martinez.
Additionally, throughout the game Nebraska only had one pass breakup from linebacker Trevor Roach. There were fumbles from the offense (of course), but neither secondary recorded an interception.
With all the caveats about this being a practice in place, the performance of the secondary on Saturday gave Nebraska fans little cause for optimism going into the summer.
Yes, King Frazier’s day was impressive, and may end up being more important for his career than Cross’ day was. But that shouldn’t sell short the showing Cross put on. Cross gained 55 yards on seven carries with a touchdown. Were it not for seven-year-old Jack Hoffman, Cross would have been the Red team’s leading rusher.
More importantly, Cross showed the ability to run both inside and outside, demonstrating his ability to be more than just a short-yardage back. The I-back competition is going to get stiff when 4-star freshmen Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor arrive on campus this fall. But on Saturday, Cross showed that he will be in the mix for carries in all situations.
OK, maybe it’s harsh to single out the Nebraska kids on the roster as quarterbacks, but these guys are way down on the depth chart. After all, for players like Tyson Broekemeier and Ryker Fife, the spring game is really their chance for glory in the way that the opening-round game is the apex for most 16 seeds in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship.
But numbers don’t lie. On a day where Nebraska quarterbacks were lighting up the defense, Broekemeier and Fyfe went 6-for-14 for 55 yards, and demonstrated a lack of elusiveness by getting sacked four times.
Yes, it’s great they got their moments of glory on the field. But ultimately, we can see how athletically limited both players are at this level, and how much trouble Nebraska would be in if either would need to be called on in a game that counted.
Spring games are always a chance to do something a little out of the ordinary on behalf of the fans. But this year, Nebraska may have set a standard that will be tough to beat.
In the fourth quarter, the public address announcer told the crowd that playing I-back was Jack Hoffman, a seven-year-old pediatric brain cancer patient who was befriended by I-back Rex Burkhead and became the basis for the Team Jack fundraising movement.
Wearing Burkhead’s No. 22 jersey (well, a kid-sized version of one), Hoffman stood next to Taylor Martinez in a two-back shotgun formation. Martinez took the snap and gave the ball to Hoffman. After a little help from Martinez to make sure he was going the right way, Hoffman sprinted around the right end and turned upfield.
With a wall of blockers behind him, and to the adoring roar of the assembled Children of the Corn, Hoffman ran 69 yards for a touchdown that went up on the scoreboard and into the official stat sheet for the spring game. And the kid ran it the whole way, never slowing down or needing to stop for a breath. I’m not certain I could match that feat, and I’m not a pediatric brain cancer patient.
Once Hoffman scored, both benches cleared. Hoffman was lifted onto the shoulders of the assembled team and cheered off the field. Could Nebraska be at risk of an NCAA violation for allowing someone other than a player on the roster to participate in the spring game? Knowing the NCAA, most likely.
But it doesn’t matter. There are many lists of the greatest touchdowns in Memorial Stadium’s storied history. But none will match the emotional impact of Hoffman’s score on Saturday.
Stick with me on this one.
Bo Pelini was brought to Nebraska for being a defensive guru. Last season, Nebraska’s defense was a hot mess, surrendering 63 or more points twice in the year. So Nebraska fans watching the spring game were hoping to see an improved defensive unit so they wouldn’t have to worry about the Blackshirts throughout the summer.
Sorry to ruin your summer plans, Nebraska fans, but you didn’t get what you were hoping for. The two offensive units combined for 421 yards and 38 points—in the first half. Taylor Martinez’s first touchdown was a throw over the middle where the receiver was able to outrun the defenders to the end zone.
The receiver? C.J. Zimmerer, a Nebraska fullback. Yes, a fullback was able to win a footrace to the end zone against linebacker Jared Afalava and safety Corey Cooper.
As I’ve said before, the Spring Game is just a practice, and just one of many practices. There should be no reason to freak out. But, unfortunately for Nebraska fans, there should also be no reason to get overly excited about the Blackshirts going into 2013.
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