It was better than anything we could have collectively imagined.
Nebraska’s virtual 2020 spring game, which we now know pitted current Huskers Cam Taylor-Britt and Wan’Dale Robinson against each other in a game of EA’s NCAA Football 14, has to be labeled a success, right?
With the regularly-scheduled Red-White scrimmage having been canceled over a month ago in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Nebraska quickly put together a plan to keep Husker fans engaged while still social distancing. The “game” played out like normal Saturday afternoon, just on the Huskers’ Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch pages.
20,000+ live viewers across the internet.
There is NO PLACE like Nebraska.
— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) April 18, 2020
Here are some takeaways from the afternoon.
A Massive Dub
As things started to stablize in the first quarter and people settled in on their preferred stream, Nebraska had a little more than 22,000 fans watching a video game.
One side, the Red team, featured Tommie Frazier and Grant Wistrom amidst a host of other Husker legends, while the other—the White team—was quarterbacked by recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee Eric Crouch and anchored by a defensive front seven with Ndamukong Suh, Rich Glover and Lavonte David. The game was billed as an all-time clash.
Admittedly it felt a little wacky at first glance, but what an ingenious idea.
Nebraska used two mystery gamers on the sticks, brought in radio greats Matt Davison and Greg Sharpe to call the game, and put a full 15 minutes on the clock each quarter.
In the middle of a pandemic, when each passing day brings with it a new challenge, or a new obstacle, or a new reason to feel the full weight of what’s going on in the world right now, folks inside the Huskers’ athletic department came up with a way to give us a day at home filled with everything great about sports in a reality without sports. I didn’t personally know how much I needed it until about midway through the first quarter. Well done.
This might honestly need to be something the Huskers’ fold into their regular spring game festivities for years to come.
Maybe the best part of the afternoon was the “broadcast” crew of Sharpe and Davison.
The began the day ribbing on the ridiculously disproportionate arms for Crouch’s virtual likeness, cracked jokes at every possible moment in between and kept things engaging and entertaining for over two hours. Not easy to do if you sit back and think about the fact we were all staring at a screen watching other people play a video game from six years ago.
Davison was relaxing and thinking about everyone’s ability on the links for long stretches in the game, and it was, in fact, hilarious to hear about Barrett Ruud’s swing while his virtual, neck-roll-sporting likeness was taking off peoples’ heads.
At one point, Davison cracked that Crouch’s character was doing push-ups before the game to get his arms that jacked, to which Sharpe fired back that he was actually pumping iron on the sideline inbetween series so as to “keep inflating those guns.”
Jason Peter’s character got himself a sack and Davison said “Believe it or not, JP is a good putter.”
Davison pointed out Dominic Raiola’s character’s goatee and Crouch’s gum-chewing in-game and all along the way pointed out how Frazier was throwing too much.
Hats off to those two for their color, and hats off to whoever first suggested putting them on the call. It made the day that much better.
Robinson’s Red side had a 16-point fourth quarter lead. . .
Taylor-Britt’s White side won 60-57 in overtime.
In classic Husker nation fashion, the play-calling was a topic of contention all game long. Frazier and the Red team threw the ball on third-and-short time after time. Crouch and the White side called screen passes on third-and-long and got nothing, or threw check-downs well behind the sticks.
White needed two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions late to even have a chance, and it got all 16 points with relative ease. As a staunch critic of EA’s defensive engine in its football games, I think I can speak for the entirity of the Hail Varsity editorial team in saying we can’t fault the defensive lapses.
However, with all three timeouts in your pocket, perhaps one of the greatest collegiate quarterbacks of all time in Tommie Frazier as your quarterback—a man who unofficially recorded a 200-yard passing, 200-yard rushing game—and the ball a first down shy of midfield, running out the clock and playing for overtime is indefensible.
The red team let 30 seconds waste away when all it needed was a field goal from a kicker who had already connected from 50 yards out.
Wow. Just wow.
The game ended in overtime on a interception from Frazier, a play that looked an awful lot like the time Brett Favre ending his Minnesota Vikings career.
(This is all completely satirical. Robinson and Taylor-Britt treated us to one of the more entertaining instances of watching other people play video games.)
The Sticks Got a Workout
One of the most euphoric feelings? Pulling off a successful hit stick tackle or truck in one of EA’s football games. No question.
There were so many to choose from in the game. Ahman Green rumbled to over 150 rushing yards for the Red team and was near-impossible to tackle at first contact. Crouch carried the rock more than 20 times and stiff armed a few defenders into oblivion. Barrett Ruud nearly broke Crouch’s back on a stick near the goalline.
So many hits, it felt like an AC/DC concert. So many missed tackles Husker fans watching got flashbacks to that guy who held the lapel mic. (OK, I’m done.)
A Halftime Throwback
Nebraska’s halftime show for the game opened with an interview of Tom Osborne and featured footage of the 1995 spring game.
Osborne spoke on the importance of spring practices and the spring game itself.
“The spring game was always very important for us because it was always the culmination of spring football. There was a time when we had 30 practices, and those were all in full pads,” he started. “We thought it was always important to make (the spring game) a real football game … because sometimes players perform pretty well in practice, but then the crowd makes a difference and real game situations make a difference.
“We always evaluated. Every practice we evaluated. So, the spring game was really critical because sometimes it came down to that last practice where we had two or three guys who had really performed almost equal throughout the spring at that position. It really served as a springboard into the fall because how you ended up at the end of spring ball was pretty much going to indicate where you started out in fall camp.”
Osborne also spoke a bit on his team airing it out in the ‘95 spring game after winning a national championship in 1994, in part, on the ground.
“The one thing that was different was during that spring game, the assistant coaches on either side primarily called the plays”—something Scott Frost has implemented at Nebraska now—“so there was a lot of passing that went on in that game because, as you know, I was a guy who was stuck in the past and just a guy that wanted to hand the ball off, run the option,” Osborne said. “I think we had over 500 yards passing in that game.”
For those who missed the game and want to catch up on all the fun, we’ve got you covered here.
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.