Right tackle David Knevel hasn’t played since the Huskers’ opener against Arkansas State on Sep. 2, but not because of an ankle sprain.
After exiting the game against the Red Wolves and undergoing tests after the game, Knevel said the medical staff found a stress fracture in his right foot. Injuries have been no stranger to the 6-foot-9 senior during his time with the Huskers. He missed four games late in his sophomore season and three of the final five games of the 2016 season.
Knevel said he felt good last week, but he’s feeling even better this week.
“Right now, I’m pretty much 100 percent,” he said. “I’m taking all the reps I can and having a lot of fun with it. I missed it.”
Obviously, Knevel would have liked to play as many games as possible in his final season, but this game, this upcoming collision with a Wisconsin team he’s never beaten, was the target date for his return.
“I really wanted to play this week,” he said before a question about wanting to play Wisconsin had even finished. “I love playing against Wisconsin. I really wanted to get back.”
Knevel said to expect another close fight. Ignore the 12-point line set by Vegas, making the Huskers the biggest home underdog they’ve been since a 1974 game against Oklahoma. Ignore the record (Wisconsin is 4-0 and Nebraska 3-2) and the ranking disparity (the Badgers are No. 8 in the country, Nebraska is… not). Ignore the talk that Indiana will be a tougher opponent than the Huskers.
“Every series we get out there we’re just competing,” Knevel said. “Both sides are competing and that’s why it’s so tight, you can see. I think we’re equally matched in talent, it’s just one of those things where we’ve just got to persevere and go.”
Knevel wants to play against the Badgers, but the line he’s returning to is much different from the one he left back in the opener. The guy who started two spots over from Knevel, Cole Conrad, has gone down with an injury of his own and has been displaced by sophomore Michael Decker. Knevel’s spot was initially filled with redshirt freshman Matt Farniok, but a broken bone in Farniok’s wrist thrust true freshman Brenden Jaimes into action over the last two weeks.
On the Huskers’ weekly depth chart, Knevel was bumped from the starting spot for Jaimes for the first time this season. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh and head coach Mike Riley have both said that competition is open on the offensive line and the best players will play. Despite Knevel claiming to be 100 percent, Riley said Monday that if the game had been played then, Jaimes would still start.
Knevel isn’t surprised to be fighting for his job now, he saw it coming before the season started.
“I think one thing this year has shown is we have a lot of depth on the o-line,” Knevel said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can come in and replace people and play well.
“I’ve always seen the depth. I remember going into the start of the season I always thought Matt Farniok was a really good player and that we were really deep at tackle because of him. Jaimes was a little bit of a surprise because he’s a freshman but people saw early on that he was a talented guy and could play.”
Knevel said he hasn’t been sour about the youngsters nipping at his heels on the depth chart, he’s been helping and encouraging them. “I’m in their ears a lot, maybe too much,” he said, and he’s been more than happy to help fix technique issues, interpret signals between quarterback Tanner Lee and the rest of the line and just pass down some tools he’s learned throughout his career.
Don’t get it wrong though, Knevel is ready to get back on the field.
“I feel really good,” he said. “My goal is just to try to be the best I can.”
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.