In recent years, the value of college football spring games has moved from fans looking to preview next year’s squad to cable networks looking to capitalize on fans starving to watch football of any type. Coaches (and rightfully so) have stripped down the playbook in order to not show anything that an opposing coach could spend this summer scheming against. This year’s Nebraska spring game took this to the next level, as new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco mothballed the 3-4 scheme that he’s been implementing in favor of the 4-3 arrangement that his predecessors ran. For this game, Nebraska was essentially running a sandlot defense: just line up somewhere and tackle someone.
That makes this year’s game meaningless to grade...so I’m not. Instead, I’m going to jot down a few thoughts as to what I saw (or what I thought I saw) out there, especially at the skill positions. I’m taking the official stats with a grain of salt; a few too many errors (Keyshawn Johnson Jr. with three tackles?) for me to put a lot of faith in their accuracy.
QB: About midway through the second quarter, I started thinking about my quarterback evaluation and my ranking was the exact opposite of the expected depth chart:
- Tristan Gebbia
- Patrick O’Brien
- Tanner Lee
A couple of minutes later, Lee lofted a perfectly thrown pass to J.D. Spielman for a 30 yard touchdown. Did that change my opinion? Not too much. Mind you, it doesn’t really matter in a spring game. Brion Carnes looked like he was going to challenge Taylor Martinez in April 2011; last we saw of him, he was a backup at Northern Iowa and the Omaha Beef. I think it’s safe to say that Gebbia is much more ready to play from a mental aspect than Patrick O’Brien was a year ago. That being said, Gebbia needs more physical development to be able to survive this game; it’s not two-handed touch in the fall.
I-Back: I found it curious that Tre Bryant only played the first series of the game; he looked good, but against a defense that frankly wasn’t sure what the heck they were doing out there at first. Is that a sign that he’s locked down the starting job? For what it’s worth, I still believe that Mikale Wilbon is Nebraska’s most talented I-back; this scrimmage didn’t do anything to change my mind. One guy who’s playing his way into the mix is Albion’s Wyatt Mazour. The sophomore might have played last season if it weren’t for a concussion suffered in October. He’ll probably play and contribute this fall; more than one person has compared him to North Platte native Danny Woodhead.
Wide Receiver: Redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman looks like he’s ready to make some serious contributions this fall. Bigger still are a group of tight ends who certainly showed the potential to contribute more than their predecessors. Some will argue that’s because of the quarterback, but senior Tyler Hoppes and David Engelhaupt both look like they can catch the ball better than the previous group of Husker tight ends.
Offensive Line: With the defense leaving all of their cards back in the locker room, it’s tough to read much into the offensive line’s performance. I do suspect that Cole Conrad could be the clubhouse leader to get the job at center. He started for the white squad, then relieved Michael Decker on the red squad later in the second quarter. Mike’l Severe of the World-Herald did note this from redshirt freshman Boe Wilson at right guard on this play:
Put me on team Boe Wilson. He should start at one of the guard spots. pic.twitter.com/q7EUhtSPVT— Mike'l Severe (@MikelSevere) April 16, 2017
Defense: It’s unfair to evaluate anything with respect to the defense from this year’s spring game. They weren’t using much of anything that they’ve been working on this spring nor anything that they plan to show in the fall. The secondary did look like they had some tough coverage early on, but the most notable player was Luke Gifford with two turnovers on the afternoon.
Off the field
This fall, there will be a couple of changes at Memorial Stadium that fans need to be aware of. First is the new stadium ban on bags: no purses, backpacks, binocular/camera cases or fanny packs will be allowed into the stadium. Only clear bags that are 12” x 6” x 12” (such as a one gallon Ziplock bag) will be allowed. Season ticketholders will be sent a complimentary Husker bag that meets these requirements.
The HuskerVision screens are being upgraded as well this summer. The main video board on top of the north stadium was installed in 2006 and is ready to be retired.
It's retirement day for the video board! 11 years of service. Getting a big time resolution upgrade this fall. pic.twitter.com/8VTEyQAmFu— Chris Pankonin (@chrispank) April 15, 2017
For fans in the North Stadium, new screens will be installed on the north sides of the towers that will match the screens facing the field and the east/west stadiums. So no more straining to watch the screens in the rest of the stadium!