Sunny weather, a new coach and a great crowd made for a fun day in at the Red-White Spring game in Lincoln. Here are my reactions from the sold-out scrimmage.
Celebration of Nebraska Football
It was absolutely a day for fans, as more than 80,000 filed in to watch the Huskers during a wonderfully sunny day. For once, Nebraska’s weather forecast didn’t include any wind, either.
The atmosphere around the stadium before the game felt almost like a festival of football and a tribute to the expected return of the much discussed “Husker Way.”
Former players roamed the sidelines. More than a hundred possible recruits visited. No doubt, optimism is brimming in Lincoln.
In the actual game, the sides were about as even as they were billed to be. Steve had it right, with the Red squad winning by 10 points, 24-14.
To be fair, the Red’s first touchdown came gift wrapped following a turnover, courtesy of a botched option pitch during the game’s very first play.
I was thrilled to see very few injuries. In fact, only Larry Asante appeared to get nicked up. And, at the time, it appeared fairly minor. It was possibly something with his left calf muscle. Getting out off of the field without major injury is the most major success of Spring.
I came away fairly impressed by the kicking game. Sure, the coverage and return units were not live, so you can't tell much.
Mendoza had a fair catch go off of his face mask, but the kickers and punters showed very well. Adi Kunalic blasted kick offs, and just missed a very long field goal try.
Alex Henery converted on his field goal attempt. Dan Tischner punted a ball inside the three yard line, and Jake Wesch booted a punt 70+ yards. I feel good about NU’s kicking game.
Next, there is good reason why NU will be primarily a running team. Not only does NU have a lot of quality offensive linemen returning, but they also boast an impressive stable of backs. Everyone knows Lucky is arguably the best back returning in the Big 12.
Also, Roy Helu runs with authority and is great in the hole. He stacks up second in my mind. After than, Quinten Castille and Marcus Mendoza bring very different things. Mendoza is extremely fast, going from a stand still to full speed as well as anyone on the roster.
Castille looks like an NFL guy, blending enough speed to go with his very large frame. Sure, both have issues. Castille lost a fumble, and Mendoza struggled to field punts, but they both have legit talent.
These backs will be important, in running as well as catching screen passes, of which there were several today.
On the down side, NU showed a lack of ball security at times. There were too many fumbles, and Ganz ran with the ball away from his body as if it were a loaf of bread.
A holding penalty negated a nice touchdown by Lucky. There were two delay of game penalties. All in all, it was a fairly well played game for a spring scrimmage.
Who Played Well?
It’s hard to say exactly who looked great because the units were mixed. And, I’m sure the coaches will grade the film. Still, I think a few players flashed ability today.
Tyler Wortman may have worked his way in to a possible starting job at linebacker. He really filled and tackled well. Barry Turner looks to be step faster than last year, and played with great leverage all day.
Murillo made a nice play on an interception. Joe Ganz looked very sharp in pretty limited action. Curenski Gilleylen looked great and bad all at once. He had the biggest highlight of the day on a long touchdown reception, but he dropped a couple of easy crossing routes.
The battle for the backup quarterback job is close for very good reason. Witt has good command of the offense, and is good in the pocket. Lee is very athletic and showed a strong arm.
Based on this limited sample of results (one scrimmage), I’d have to give Lee the edge. The Huskers wants to incorporate some quarterback run game in to the offense. Lee is better equipped than Wit (or even Ganz) for that style of play. In fact, he made a linebacker miss entirely on one run.
Witt also threw the interception, which will hurt his grade today. In any case, I came away feeling good about the talent behind Ganz at quarterback. And, I expect Witt and Lee to continue to push each other and compete.
Some Old, Some New
Finally, there were some questions about how much NU’s offense would change with Bill Callahan gone and Shawn Watson still on the staff. Well, the answer is not too much.
NU still runs many of the same formations and plays. As I said before, it was clear that the quarterbacks will run (draws, read option, etc). And, there are still some of the same tendencies. For example, second down and more than seven yards to go, NU still loves the middle screen to the running back.
But there were nice new wrinkles, like a quick counter pitch play to get the back in to space on the outside, and some quick screens to the wide receivers. These plays take advantage of NU’s talent in those spots and are almost like stealing six yards.
So, you can feel Watson’s imprint on the offense, even though the base philosophies remain.
Finally, all eyes were clearly on NU’s new head coach. Before the game, everyone was talking defense. His being on the field of play during the scrimmage was the topic of a lot of chatter in the stands.
Every time he appeared on the replay boards, people cheered. Even when he was doing the drug free pledge at halftime, people paid attention and repeated after him. Not too bad for his first came, uh, I mean, scrimmage, as head coach.