Consider this a first impressions column. Yes, it’s more than 24 hours after the spring game, but it’s also coming before sitting down and diving into (somewhat… it is a spring game) the nuts and bolts of what Nebraska was trying to do in spots. That’ll come later. For now, how about some gut reactions?
The Skill Guys
I think Nebraska might have a slightly underrated crop of skill position players this season. That’s not to say that they’ll be great, there’s still a long way to go and the cart needs to stay behind the horse here, but just in terms of conference-wide attention paid to them, Nebraska’s group might catch some folks early in the season going, “Oh, when did they get these guys?”
Samori Toure in the slot worked smoothly. The first big play of the game—a 27-yard RPO completion from Adrian Martinez to Toure on a slant—showed exactly why Nebraska wants him working at the Y.
When they share the field, it can potentially set up a kind of “pick your poison” scenario with he and Omar Manning lined up next to each other on the same side of the formation.
“I feel like when we’re on the same side, in my mind they gotta pick one of us to take away, and you can’t take us both away,” Toure said. “That’s something that’s gonna be really important.”
Manning has to be on the field for this group to make sense the way it can, but he’s made progress this spring. Everyone said as such. He was targeted five times in the first half Saturday, one a ball that should have been a touchdown with a little less mustard on it as Manning worked along the back of the end zone.
“I thought he made huge progress,” said head coach Scott Frost. “Just being able to go out there and line up, know every signal, run every play the right way. He’s had a few things that have kept him off the field but when he’s out there he’s a difference-maker for us. He’s had a really good spring and, again, we just need consistency from him. If we get that kind of consistency of him being there all the time and helping us, he’s going to be really good and we’re going to be better.”
It’s still an if. Manning will need to be there when Nebraska boards the plane for Champaign in late August or else some folks throughout the state will start feeling a little antsy, but it seems right now as if there isn’t anything to worry about. The 6-foot-4 receiver is absolutely worth whatever antsy moments might come with the package.
“Me and Omar have actually gotten pretty close. I love the guy,” Toure said. “He’s just starting to have a handle on everything. He’s getting the playbook down more and he’s just putting in maximum effort all the time. You can just tell he wants to be great.
“I’ve heard things about last year, I don’t know what happened, but from what I’ve seen Omar wants to be great. And I think he can be.”
Whoever lines up at the Z spot will have to threaten teams, too, and I like Nebraska’s options to build out a rotation at wideout. Oliver Martin looks as though he’ll be a starter, and he and Martinez seemed to have good chemistry built up. Martin isn’t a throw-away guy from Iowa, he’s a legitimate talent who can play a role in a good offense, I think. Seven targets tied for the most of any receiver who played. He caught five of them. That’s a good day’s work, and it sounds like he had more than a few of those this spring.
Which means the young guys can work themselves in at their own pace rather than being relied upon for immediate production. We’re talking Zavier Betts—who was perhaps a little underwhelming with his performance on the White side—and Will Nixon and Wyatt Liewer and Alante Brown when he returns to full health and the freshmen when they arrive this summer. Let’s not forget Levi Falck is in the mix as well.
The ingredients are there…
And in the running back room—I’ll keep pounding this drum—Ryan Held has done a nice job building out a deep group of young players.
While it’s true we need to wait until the fall to establish the pecking order (I think Markese Stepp maintained his lead in the race this spring), it can also be said that NU found some stuff in its collection of inexperienced backs.
I’m bullish on Jaquez Yant, a 6-foot-2 second-year man who neither looks like a walk-on nor is he treated like one by the coaches. It’s important to have both be true as opposed to one or the other.
Marvin Scott III showed some promise once the tackling started in the second half Saturday. A twisting gallup for 39 yards showed off the power we knew he possessed but also some wiggle we might not have. His plan for the summer? “Just working on my breakaway speed, working on my strength too,” he said
He evoked names like Devine Ozigbo and Ameer Abdullah in talking about who he’s modeling his development after. Scott showed some sound blocking instincts. He’s a guy to keep in mind as that battle heats up in the fall.
Gabe Ervin Jr., the mid-year enrollee, seems determined to push himself into the mix as well.
My gut tells me the Huskers might have a nice mix of talent at the skill positions. Great? I don’t know. Potentially good, even shockingly so to some? Perhaps.
Cameron Jurgens, a starter at center in 19 of Nebraska’s last 20 games, will be somewhere on the first or second All-Big Ten team at the end of the 2021 season.
He was moving some people in the spring game. Hard to tell how high the intensity was with a veteran defense tagging off rather than tackling, but Jurgens’ blocking ability has never been up for debate. Since his first start at center, it’s been clear that when the snap is on target and he isn’t thinking about it, he’s crushing someone. The snap looked pretty good this spring.
Talk Backed Up
Adrian Martinez looked lean during spring availability. But we only got brief glimpses of him running the show and actually using his legs.
After Saturday’s game, we can probably agree that Nebraska was being honest in its assessment that Martinez is a step faster this spring compared to where he has been the last two seasons.
There’s a longing for the kind of athlete Martinez was as a true freshman before he bulked up to insulate himself from the grind of the Big Ten. He admitted he wasn’t where he wanted to be as a sophomore, and it’s been a process to get back to a place where he felt comfortable.
He seems at ease mentally. He looks technically clean in a lot of areas—footwork, ball placement on the short stuff. He should be in complete command of the offense.
Would I like to see him hit that touch corner throw he was intercepted on at the very end of the first half? As a fourth-year starting quarterback, yeah. Perhaps even don’t throw it; there were too many defenders in the area. But he was throwing into a stiff wind and it was the end of the half of a spring game and if you really pressed me on it you’d get just a big shrug. Don’t do that in the fourth quarter against Iowa. I suspect Mario Verduzco has already told him something similar.
Martinez looked good managing the RPOs, though. He looks to have good chemistry with Oliver Martin and Samori Toure. And he threw a couple of nice deep balls, one to Omar Manning that should have been a completion.
And, yes, he looks a step faster.
From a Husker you should be following:
Got curious about how Martinez’ speed compared, so I watched some 2018 #Huskers. Same QB T-Wrap/Dart RPO w/ RB travel motion.
2021 Spring Game 2018 NU vs CU pic.twitter.com/1yQSMlvuFN
— GBR_Sec601Row1 (@GBR_Sec601Row1) May 2, 2021
A Nice Way to End
Can we just take a moment to admire the throw that won the game for the White team?
Yes, it’s a spring game. Yes, it’s against a reserve defense. Yes, it’s without any real threat of getting hit.
But, this was Heinrich Haarberg’s first time simulating a game in Memorial Stadium in front of fans. Thirty-six thousand is quite the change of pace from his high school stadium in Kearney. And it was the last play of the game. Scott Frost changed the ending to allow one more play after a nice completion to Wyatt Liewer the play previous.
Hit it and you win. Misfire and you lose.
Were the stacks significant? Maybe not. But for a first-year player wanting to show people he’s a capable quarterback, and a quarterback wanting to show his coaches he’s worthy of the No. 2 spot, they have been to Haarberg.
And he hits the throw without really stepping up into the pocket and while feeling … “pressure” from his right. Dropped it right in the bread basket.
Adrian Martinez is the No. 1 quarterback, make no mistake, but what a way to end the day for Haarberg. It was a nice throw.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.