Two and a half hours to last us the next five months. That’s the spring game, any spring game, in a nutshell.
We have every reason not to draw any conclusions from the Huskers’ final practice of the spring, which the Red team won by a score of 30-21. But the temptation to do just that is hard to resist. After all, this is all we – fans and media alike – really get to see. It’s the only morsel of raw information to chew on until next August.
But there was one very clear conclusion to draw on Saturday: Jack Hoffman’s 69-yard fourth quarter touchdown run — the game-winning score – was one of the most special moments on a field that’s seen a lot of them.
Hoffman, as most Nebraska fans know, is the 7-year-old brain cancer patient and Rex Burkhead fan who has become something of a team rallying point for the past two seasons. On Saturday he got to experience something very few do – the feeling of a crowd willing you into the end zone at Memorial Stadium.
It was a big moment on a beautiful day for football in Lincoln. As Jack chugged into the end zone – wearing number 22 of course — you could see more than a few fans reaching under their sunglasses to wipe their eyes. Head coach Bo Pelini even had a hard time talking about it after the game.
“Jack’s a young man who has touched the hearts of a lot of people,” Pelini said. “Our football team, the student body, people have gotten behind him and he’s become a big part of the team.”
Big enough, in fact, to make the box score on Saturday.
That moment made perhaps the most mundane thing 60,000 people would show up to watch actually pretty special. That’s one conclusion I’m certain about.
But it wouldn’t be a spring game if we didn’t try to extrapolate at least a little bit so here are 10 — let’s call them impressions – from Saturday:
1) All eyes were already on the 2013 Blackshirts coming into Saturday so when the two offenses combined for 421 total yards, five touchdowns, and 21 pass completions on 25 attempts in the first half, you could almost feel the doubt creeping through Memorial Stadium. I wouldn’t get too worked up yet. Split a defensive unit in half in a scheme that requires a good deal of precision – even in a base defense — and you’re going to have some problems. That and Nebraska’s offense is very, very good.
2) Wide receivers Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp both did enough with limited touches to justify the excitement that surrounds them. Westerkamp led all receivers with four catches, a couple of them pretty tough ones. Moore had only two catches but they went for a total of 59 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown from fellow freshman Tommy Armstrong.
3) Speaking of which, Armstrong probably lived up to the hype on Saturday as well. He looked like a ghost of the 1990s while running the option and his pass to Moore on the touchdown was a thing of beauty. He did have some bad throws too, not to mention a couple of fumbles, but he showed enough to keep most everyone happy.
4) King Frazier is going to play for Nebraska this fall. How much? Who knows? But he will play.
5) While much of the focus prior to Saturday at the linebacker position was on the four freshmen in camp, the Huskers two leading tacklers on Saturday were a pair of veterans. Senior Colby Starkebaum (white) and junior Trevor Roach (red) both manned the middle linebacker spots and finished with eight and 10 tackles respectively. Youth and athleticism is good but experience, specifically at that position, still accounts for a lot.
6) Jared Afalava only had two tackles, but he seems to be around the ball quite a bit. He took a few bad angles, yes, but he seems to have that innate ability to find the football. He’ll survive on athleticism for a while, but when he puts that together with a better understanding of the scheme he’s going to be very fun to watch.
7) Five tight ends combined to make 11 catches for 144 yards. Nebraska has some pieces to work with there and that’s good because Tim Beck’s offense is still excellent at getting tight ends open.
8) Special teams is far from settled, but Nebraska has two legs that looked pretty big on Saturday. Mauro Bondi hit a 50-yard field goal with a strong wind at his back and had plenty of leg on a 58-yarder – again, with the wind – that went wide right. Both kicks came out pretty low which is a concern, but that’s a “known issue” as they say. Plenty of time to work on that.
Wide receiver/punter Sam Foltz had a good day as well, averaging 44.2 yards on five punts. The ball comes off his foot pretty good.
9) Pelini said that Armstrong sits ahead of Ron Kellogg III right now in the backup quarterback race, but Kellogg looked his best on Saturday. After throwing incomplete on his first pass of the game, Kellogg completed the next 11 in a row, throwing for 148 yards and a touchdown. Nebraska fans should feel better today about the backup quarterback situation than they did yesterday.
10) Football in Nebraska is still one of the best things going. Nothing like a little scrimmage in the sun in front of 60,000-plus people to remind you of that.