Talking with Jon over at CornNation in the fourth quarter, we decided that today's spring game seemed to be more revival meeting than football game. After the worst Husker football season since Bill Jennings was roaming the sidelines, Husker fans needed a reason to feel good about their football program. So a sellout crowd of over 80,000 fans came to Lincoln today to see a scrimmage. The game was real for the players, who had dinner riding on the outcome. (The victorious Red squad got steak; the White team got hot dogs.) But for us fans, it was a chance to put the whole Steve Pederson Error behind us once and for all.
What did we see? Well, the game tried to open with a tribute to the Osborne option offense by running an option play to the right, but Patrick Witt was forced to pitch the ball early by senior walkon Tyler Wortman, sending the ball bouncing on the turf. For some reason, I bet that Wortman has defended far more option plays during his high school days in Grand Island than Witt ran in his entire life...and it showed. But at least fans didn't give this fumble a standing ovation, unlike the opening pass into double coverage that fell incomplete in the 2004 spring game. In running a tribute play, Bo Pelini follows the lead of Bob Stoops, who had the Sooners line up in the wishbone for his first play in his first Spring Game.
The 80,000 fans in Lincoln appear to be the largest Spring Game crowd this year, topping the 78,200 who watch Alabama's spring game for free last week and the announced crowd of 76,346 claimed by Ohio State today. And the biggest ovation of the day had to be for the return of the Big Red to the field, showing that last year's acrimony was directed primarily at the previous regime.
So what did Husker fans see?
Joe Ganz staked his claim as the #1 quarterback, though his 4 for 9 numbers were nothing to write home about. Several drops by receivers today. Patrick Witt outplayed Zac Lee in the first half, though Lee had a nice scramble in the third quarter as well as a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
The hype over Roy Helu, Jr. is for real. Shawn Watson has to find a way this summer to get Helu on the field more. Quentin Castille got off to a really slow start, but had some nice runs as the game got going. A bad turnover though.
Of the young receivers, Curenski Gillylan made the highlight of the day catching a bomb from Joe Ganz. I had to watch the play on replay because silly me decided it was a good idea to break out the camera.
Either the offensive line isn't as strong as we've been told, or the defensive line has addressed many of their problems from last year. Which is it? We'll find out this fall.
Marcus Mendoza struggled with fielding punts in a scrimmage where there were no returns. But Mendoza made up for his punt return miscues with a nice performance on the ground and receiving. Mendoza looks like he can contribute as well at running back...all the more reason to consider playing Marlon Lucky occasionally at wide receiver.
Chris Brooks had the catch of the day, with a nice 1-handed circus grab.
Name I hadn't heard of before: Austin Jones. Got lit up by Rickey Thenarse in the fourth quarter. (Of course, Thenarse can light up a lot of people.) But he responded with a couple of nice runs late as well as catching a touchdown pass from Zac Lee.
Was it an awe-inspiring performance today? Hardly not. But you didn't see a lot of mistakes and you did see good effort the whole game. That might have been the most important part of today's spring game.