When last we checked in with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, they had just imploded against Washington in the Holiday Bowl. Imploded might not be the best term for it; it was a simply pathetic performance. Couldn't run, couldn't pass, and sometimes couldn't even tackle. Afterwards, fans wanted the scalp of offensive coordinator and became increasingly unsettled as Bo Pelini decided to handle the restructuring of his coaching staff on his own terms. It was a long ugly offseason of discontent and judging by the relatively smaller crowd for this year's Spring Game, Husker fans still haven't gotten over the funk from last season.
Yesterday, as the skies opened up, it seemed to be a parallel to the mood of Husker fans. The rain came down in buckets in eastern Nebraska, and as you headed west, it turned to snow. And in the panhandle, it was a blizzard. Though the rain ended last night, the day began with clouds and cold, which didn't sound promising for a family outing to the spring game. Sure I could handle the cold, but how do I bundle up the kids for this? But a funny thing happened as I drove southwest towards Lincoln. The clouds began to break up and were gone by the time I got to Lincoln. It turned out to be a fabulous day for the spring game. Sunny and almost warm.
There were a lot of things to like about today's game. Eric Martin looks like he's found a home at defensive end. He didn't see a lot of action today, but when he was in the game, he was oh-so-disruptive. The Pelini brothers have a new wrinkle to exploit this fall; Big Ten offensive coordinators: you've been warned.
It's unfair to compare Brion Carnes to his second cousin, especially in a scrimmage when he's on the field with a mishmash of backups on both sides of the ball. But he looked really, really, REALLY good throwing the ball as well as running the ball. Rex Burkhead looked powerful running the ball, as did Austin Jones as well. I read that as a sign that the offensive line was doing it's job. Kenny Bell had a couple of nice catches, and showed some nifty moves, especially on a third quarter screen pass from Taylor Martinez to gain 14 yards.
And then there was Jamal Turner. Sometimes spring game stars are just that...backups who only get playing time in the springtime. (Can you say Robin Miller?) I don't think Jamal Turner is going to be just a spring game star. He was electric every time he touched the ball, and I was wowed even before I realized he had amassed 228 all-purpose yards this afternoon. The comparisons to Bobby Newcombe might be valid: a former quarterback who is absolutely electric in the open field. But only if people don't whine that he should have stayed at quarterback. I saw enough of Newcombe at quarterback to realize that he was far more productive at receiver. I haven't seen Turner throw the ball, but he'd have to be Peyton Manning-like to convince me that he belongs at quarterback.
Not all was great today. Cody Green continues to regress at quarterback. One fumble, and really should have thrown at least two interceptions. If it wasn't for the shoulder injury to Kody Spano, he'd be a candidate to switch positions. (Pelini indicated today that Spano's shoulder injury is serious, and by mentioning that he'll be part of the program "one way or the other", seems to give credence to the internet speculation that his playing career could be over.) If Bubba Starling attends classes in Lincoln this fall, look for Green elsewhere on the field.
Taylor Martinez seemed to play better than his statistics indicated. He hardly ran the ball much, and he showed a little more poise passing...but he's still very much a work-in-progress as a quarterback. Ron Kellogg III looked "serviceable", whatever that means. Right now, I think I'd be more comfortable with Kellogg taking snaps than Green, to tell you the truth. If Carnes continues to develop, he might just be in a position to challenge Martinez.
Penalty problems haven't been cleared up - in fact, we saw multiple sideline warnings and penalties on the opposite side of the field from where Bo Pelini was standing. And hopefully that's the last time we see Jamal Turner pull a stunt enroute to the end zone. I was watching that play from under the stands, so I didn't get a chance to see if Bo Pelini had a chance to express his displeasure with that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I guess the referees from the B1G decided not to implement the new rule that showboating on your way into the end zone negates the touchdown. I'm in favor of the rule, and frankly, I think that's a penalty that only gets called once, because once players realize that showboating takes points off the board, they won't do it again. And the game will be better for it, even though somebody will be the unfortunate first victim.
So what's the takeaway from today? I think the defense will be fine in 2011. If one of the incoming I-backs is the real deal (Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah, or Braylon Heard), the offense will be fine. I wouldn't read too much into Martinez's performance. He wasn't trying to run the ball, and he wasn't getting as much help from his receivers. I'm more concerned by the penalties than anything else I saw today.
One of the biggest cheers of the day came when HuskerVision pointed out that the "B1G" is just 75 days away. I'm still not sure fans have really come to complete grips about this. Sure, we're happy to yell "Forget You" to Texas and Dan Beebe, but I don't know that we really understand what we're getting ourselves into. I know I'm optimistic that the Huskers can do quite well, but that's just speculation at this point. In the meantime, there's a crash-course to learn about 11 new opponents first.