Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meow! Nebraska's Spring Game Turns Into a Big Football Party

I admit that I've got a soft spot in my heart for the old-style spring games when the top units face off against each other. My favorite had to be the 1995 game when Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer tried to top each other. But television coverage has changed college football not just in the spring but year round.  Coaches now are too timid to show much of anything in a spring game. They've gradually been dialed down over the years. Bill Callahan even turned it into a farce, matching up the starters against the scout team to mask the clusterfool.

A lot of people stopped going to spring games for that reason. I know I skipped a few during the Callahan years for that very reason. Cleaning the garage? A better use of my time.  But even if there wasn't much to learn from a football perspective, there's always been one very good reason to go to the spring game.


Growing up, I remember my parents taking the family to the spring game. And now with children of my own, the spring game is a family staple of ours. It's a fun way to introduce kids to Husker football. Tickets are relatively inexpensive. The kids get to run around on the field at halftime, and the game is low pressure. There are no tense moments when you don't want to answer your children's questions because you are afraid to miss a play.

But the 2014 edition of the Nebraska spring game gave the non-parents a reason to come to Lincoln.  Fun.  And it started with Bo Pelini leading the tunnel walk with a cat.
@FauxPelini had no choice but to waive the white flag of surrender at that point.

Pelini detractors may not like the four losses a season. They may not like the emotion that sometimes runs overboard. But it's time to permanently retire the misperception that Bo Pelini is an angry, humorless sociopath. Pelini has kept that side of his personality under wraps for far too long. We've only seen little snippets of it here and there, but over the last year, we're finally getting to see it publicly.

And Saturday, we saw the fun side of Pelini. He challenged Kenny Bell to a passing contest to see who could hit the goal posts from 40 yards away.  Bell hit the posts on two out of three throws, while Pelini channeled his inner Mickey Joseph, coming up short on all three tosses.  Former players were invited to punt, pass, and kick.  Except graduating tackle Jeremiah Sirles turned it into an opportunity to propose to his girlfriend.
There was no way to top last year's Jack Hoffman touchdown run. So Pelini didn't.  He just made today a lot of fun for everybody.  It was a football party.

Oh, there was a little football in there. It's too easy to overreact to a spring game. (Remember Brion Carnes in 2011?) So let's temper everything we saw. Tommy Armstrong didn't have a great game, but he won't be in any danger of losing his spot as the starter based on today.  What we did see was Ryker Fyfe step up and lead the #1 offense on an impressive touchdown drive against the Blackshirts with a poised performance. Johnny Stanton looked OK as well in his first public performance in a Nebraska uniform.

We all know what Ameer Abdullah can do, so he spent almost the entire day on the sideline. Imani Cross looked really sharp, rushing six times for 100 yards. He showed great vision reversing his field on a simple counter play for a 39 yard touchdown. Adam Taylor looked OK, but I was impressed with Terrell Newby's improvement. He looks like he's bulked up a bit, but more importantly, he's really worked on ball security. 16 carries and nary even a bobble.  Brandon Reilly had the play of the day with a nifty catch that only got better when he was finally brought down after a 51 yard gain.

On defense, I liked what I saw from Byerson Cockrell in the secondary with four tackles and a pass breakup. It wasn't a great performance from the defense, but it wasn't bad either. Nathan Gerry did get off to a fast start. I suspect that Pelini had hoped to see a little more from the linebackers.

But considering the past history of spring game results, it doesn't really matter. The biggest takeaway from the 2014 Spring Game was that players and fans had a blast.
And that's not a bad thing at all.

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