Nebraska Football: Players Who Must Step Up in Randy Gregory's Absence

Erin Sorensen@erinsorensenContributor ISeptember 3, 2014

Aug 30, 2014; Lincoln, NE, USA; Florida Atlantic Owls quarterback Greg Hankerson (6) is sacked by Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive end Jack Gangwish (95) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska won 55-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't what Nebraska fans wanted to see. In the Huskers' first matchup of the season, defensive end Randy Gregory sat himself on the bench with an apparent knee injury.

Pelini later confirmed that an old injury resurfaced for the junior, per Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald. While Pelini believes Gregory could have finished playing against Florida Atlantic, further injury wasn't worth the risk. He's expected to return by the Fresno State game.

Until then, a couple of players will have to step up to fill the void left by Gregory. Who will those players be?

Jack Gangwish (DE, Junior)

In Gregory's absence against Florida Atlantic, walk-on junior Jack Gangwish was tasked with stepping up. The defensive end did a fine job, too.

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis was pleased with his performance against the Owls. As the Omaha World-Herald reported, he thought the junior handled the opportunity well:

Obviously I want Randy to play. He’s certainly one of our best players, but also there’s something to be said for having an opportunity to find out about some of your other guys, especially early in the year. And I think we found out a little bit about Jack. I thought Jack did a really nice job today.

Beyond just his performance, Gangwish's attitude was spectacular following the game. As Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel noted, he was exceptionally excited to talk with the media.

“They did a lot of work with me and put in a lot of extra time and molded me into a new football player,” Gangwish said, per Vogel. “I’m pretty happy about it.”

Gangwish only had one tackle against Florida Atlantic, but the experience is truly what matters. The mix of a positive attitude and some experience under his belt should allow another good game for Gangwish against McNeese State.

Greg McMullen (DE, Sophomore)

With Gregory out, Greg McMullen is going to have to step up as a leader. Gregory will still be able to lead from the sidelines, but when it comes to those moments on the field, it's going to fall on McMullen's shoulders.

The good news is that McMullen appears to have found some attitude in the offseason, as the Omaha World-Herald's McKewon noted. McKewon also when on to say that McMullen "was more physical and demonstrative Saturday than he was at any time last year."

As for his responsibility going forward, McMullen plans to remain calm, despite temporarily losing Gregory. He also plans to keep improving.

“When first-team, All-American Randy Gregory goes down, it is a big concern because that is a critical part of our defensive line and also one of our leaders,” McMullen said, per The Daily Nebraskan. “But when you’re a competitor in this sport, stuff is going to happen.”

Against Florida Atlantic, McMullen had four total tackles with one sack, per ESPN.com. The sophomore believes he and his teammates can get better.

“We beat Florida Atlantic, but let’s take it with a grain of salt,” McMullen said, per The Daily Nebraskan. “There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed. We start preparation for next week. The reality is on the film, so we will watch it and get better.”

Marcus Newby (LB, Redshirt Freshman)

The Florida Atlantic game was a big game for Marcus Newby. It was the redshirt freshman's big debut for Nebraska. It became even bigger when Gregory was injured.

As the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple noted, Newby's role as a pass-rushing specialist could be even more important now that Gregory is out. As for his first performance, Newby is already looking to improve.

"I feel it went alright. I think I could do a lot better," he said, per Sipple.

In Gregory's absence, Newby will play a crucial role as he will occasionally be used to give Gangwish a breather in potential pass-rush situations. Newby ultimately showed against Florida Atlantic that he can step in and help after losing a key defensive player in Gregory.