Coach Mike Riley’s second spring at Nebraska ends Saturday with the Red-White game. The festive event caps a feel-good period of practice for the Cornhuskers, who closed 2015 with much-needed momentum from a Foster Farms Bowl victory over UCLA after a 5-7 regular season -- the third losing season in 50 years at the school.
Spring has brought its usual dose of optimism, aided by the return to Lincoln in February of ex-Husker John Parrella as defensive line coach. Nebraska returns senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., a load of experience at the offensive skill positions and plenty of promising youth on defense.
The scoring system Saturday will pit the offense against the defense, awarding points for positive plays. Special teams will not be incorporated in normal situations. A running clock, with 20-minute quarters, will be used.
“We’re really looking for good procedure,” Riley said, “good decisions by the quarterback, good assignment work by all phases of the game, good execution. Hopefully, it’ll be a good give and take offensively and defensively.”
Where to watch: Memorial Stadium. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased through Friday on Huskers.com. Youth in eighth grade or younger can enter for free but must secure a complimentary ticket. On Saturday, tickets can be purchased at the Nebraska athletics ticket office, Gate 10 ticket windows and at the East Stadium plaza. More than 60,000 tickets have been sold. Last year, Nebraska attracted a crowd of 76,681 for the spring game. Head out early to meet Nebraska’s national champion women’s volleyball team. Its players will sign autographs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m CT at the Husker Nation Pavilion northeast of the stadium.
When to watch: Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. The scrimmage will be televised on the Big Ten Network at 4 p.m CT on Saturday and streamed live on BTN's app.
Who to watch: Let’s start with the youth. Carlos and Khalil Davis, redshirt freshman defensive tackles, should get a chance to shine Saturday in the absence of senior Greg McMullen, who took a leave of absence of the final week of spring practice to concentrate on graduating this spring. The Davis twins are the future of Nebraska’s defensive interior.
At receiver, with Jordan Westerkamp and De’Mornay Pierson-El sidelined, watch sophomore Stanley Morgan Jr., who appears to have made a jump in the offseason after he caught 25 passes as a freshman. Also, rookie Derrion Grim, an early enrollee, snagged 34 touchdowns as a record-setting receiver last fall in Stockton, California.
Of course, there will be a focus on Patrick O’Brien, the other freshman who started school in January. O’Brien, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback, has made a solid adjustment to college this spring. He continues to compete for the No. 2 job with veteran Ryker Fyfe and sophomore A.J. Bush. Zack Darlington, a spring-game QB standout last year, shifted in March to play slot receiver.
What to watch: Nothing for Nebraska in 2016 rates as important as improvement and development on the offensive and defensive lines. The Huskers might gain some traction as a trendy pick in the Big Ten West this summer, though any major steps forward over last season require solid play up front.
On the offensive side, the time is now for sophomores Nick Gates and Jerald Foster, who form a nice tandem on the left side, but Nebraska needs others to emerge. Guard Tanner Farmer had a solid spring. David Knevel looks ready to take over at right tackle. Let’s see how they perform in front of a crowd.
Defensively, senior Kevin Maurice gets a chance to play a key role after the early losses of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine. In addition to the Davis twins, redshirt freshman defensive ends Alex Davis and DaiShon Neal might be ready to contribute, and sophomore Freedom Akinmoladun rates as Nebraska’s best pass-rusher.
Why to watch: The Red-White game is always a spectacle. Nebraska has had fun with this scrimmage in recent years. The plan Saturday sounds the same. So far, the second year under Riley has gone smoothly. The spring game represents another milestone toward a successful season in 2016.