Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reflections on An Even More Meaningless Nebraska Spring Game

With the advent of nationally televised spring games, the endeavor has moved away from being a meaningful scrimmage into more of an exhibition to entertain the fans. Not that there is anything wrong with that - especially for those of us with kids. It's a good chance to get the kids into Memorial Stadium and experience Nebraska football without spending hundreds of dollars.  (Even if the kids no longer get to go out on the field at halftime, sad to say.)

The cancellation of the on-field halftime activities caused us to put our plans to buy tickets on hold; the original plan was to do it the day they went on sale, but we passed on that to think about it. Then life took hold: my wife found out she was on call, while my daughter had a birthday party come up.  So really, it wasn't until Friday that I decided that my son and I could go to the game.

And the opening play of the game had me questioning why I even bothered. As Tommy Armstrong started his snap count, I took a look at the defense and noticed Marcus Newby and a bunch of reserves starting for the White defense.  Then Armstrong rolled out and threw deep...and incomplete.

Deep pass against the scout team.  I saw this act before... in 2004.  It wasn't meaningful then, and it wasn't meaningful in 2016.  Going into Saturday's game, I had hoped that we would see the top units facing off in this game, but it never, ever happened.  So I pretty much ignored much of what was happening on the lines, because I didn't have any context for whether a guy was playing well or just overwhelming an inferior player on the other side.  That left me with just a few takeaways from the game action:

Mikale Wilbon caught my eye at the start of the game by getting positive yards against the top defense with absolutely no blocking. On his first carry, he nearly got tackled for a two yard loss, but spun out and ended up with a three yard gain. Later, he did get a few snaps with the first string offense and looked as good as, if not better than, every other I-back.

Redshirt freshman Avery Anderson caught my eye more than once with some big hits and some fine play, along with fellow redshirt freshman Eric Lee, Jr. Both spent a lot of time defending the top offense and looked good.

The hype machine with recruits grates me to no end, and so the constant murmuring and high expectations for Patrick O'Brien rubs me the wrong way. So when the stadium gave a huge ovation to O'Brien when he finally entered the game, I could only shake my head.  The only good thing I can say about his performance is that hopefully fans will dial down their expectations on a quarterback who really should be preparing for his high school prom this spring. He's clearly not adjusted to the speed of the college game - and nobody should expect him to, either. He's had exactly 14 college practices; it's going to take him time to understand the playbook. He doesn't have the athletic ability of the other quarterbacks to make something out of nothing, so it's going to take him time.

In other words: he's not taking over for Tommy Armstrong this fall, barring a rash of injuries. He was the fourth quarterback in the game for a reason, and frankly, I suspect that if injuries became an issue this fall, the coaches would move Zach Darlington back to quarterback ahead of O'Brien.  O'Brien looks like he needs a redshirt year to not only master the playbook, but also master the speed of the college game.  Dial it down, fans. Dial it down, big time.

We shouldn't have been surprised by the departure of defensive tackle Kevin Williams; he's been oft-injured and seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. Greg McMullen's departure, on the other hand, is troubling. He went through most of spring practice, then decided to step away last week?  OK.  Now, let's combine it with the fact that Nebraska has now had their four most experienced defensive linemen choose to leave the program since the Foster Farms Bowl. Each has their own reasons...but still, four?

Even more troubling is how defensive coordinator Mark Banker seemed to be completely blindsided by McMullen Saturday.
Especially since apparently McMullen told the team before the game.
Why DIDN'T Mark Banker know about McMullen?  Mike Riley seemed to know something on Thursday, as he said he'd have an announcement after the spring game. The team knew. This simply doesn't add up, and when you combine it with the churn on the defensive line, certainly raises my eyebrows.

It's something to keep an eye on, as I'm not sure that this story is over.

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