LINCOLN, Neb. – The first game day of the year continues to inch closer and closer, and on Wednesday, the Huskers moved practice into Memorial Stadium as they prepare for the Fresno State Bulldogs.
Nebraska doesn’t know quite what to expect from the Fresno State defense with a nw coordinator, but offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said he is anticipating seeing a 3-4 defense from the Bulldogs. The schedule worked out perfectly for the Huskers, however, drawing a 3-4 team in week one.
“It’s a lot different [than playing against 4-3 teams],” Langsdorf said. “Knowing that going into the week, the fact that we’ve had really three weeks – we’ve been working on it since really the first week of fall camp. So I’m not nearly as concerned about it as I would be had we been going against four down teams for a month then all of a sudden go back to a 3-4. So I think we’ll be fine, but it definitely is different. It presents some challenges.”
The biggest of those challenges is the amount and variety of pressure a 3-4 team can bring compared to standard 4-3 teams.
“That’s been a big emphasis for us is being able to handle pressure,” Langsdorf said. “We always feel like if you aren’t able to handle it you’re just going to keep getting it. We’ve got to put a stop to a lot of pressure on the quarterback and hit them with some runs and be able to slow that stuff down. That will be important for us to make sure they don’t get off to a fast start.”
>> The Huskers want to be one of the top rushing teams in the Big Ten, and sophomore back Devine Ozigbo said they have the tools to accomplish that goal.
“I think that we have the backs to do it and we have the offensive line to do it, so as long as we execute, the run game should be there every game, all game,” Ozigbo said.
The team entered fall camp with a three-man competition at running back with senior Terrell Newby, sophomore Mikale Wilbon and Ozigbo all splitting reps. By the end of camp, true freshman Tre Bryant thrust himself into that mix and will play right away rather than redshirting this year, much like Ozigbo did in 2015.
“He caught onto the offense very early,” Ozigbo said. “The coaches, I don’t know if they did anything different, but all the freshmen seemed to have picked it up real quickly. Tre made minimal mistakes throughout fall camp. He’s just picked it up and executed very well.”
Langsdorf said they will allow Bryant to “get his feet wet” and play in some certain situations, but they don’t want to overload him this early.
All four backs should get an opportunity to make an impact, but the coaching staff certainly won’t complain if one is able to separate himself from the pack.
“The committee is always a good idea, but if you can have a [workhorse] back, and if you want to be that guy you have to make the most of your opportunities,” Ozigbo said. “If you can do everything – run, catch, pass protect – then you’ll have more chances because you’ll be on the field more.”
>> Senior offensive guard Corey Whitaker is back at practice after undergoing a knee scope, and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said he has done well. As far as availability for Saturday’s game, Cavanaugh said they’ll “see what happens and how the game flows.” Whitaker was in line to start at left guard before his surgery and senior utility lineman Sam Hahn has taken his place against Fresno State. Cavanaugh said he’s looking forward to seeing all of the new starters get their first chance to play on Saturday.
“I’m excited for [right tackle David] Knevel,” Cavanaugh said. “Knevel has had a great camp. I think he’s going to be a great player. And then Hahn, obviously, he’s paid his dues and worked hard and been a journeyman back-up, playing tackle and moving to guard, and he’s handled it well like [Zach] Sterup did [last year].”
Hahn spent most of camp as the top back-up tackle, but when left guard Jerald Foster was lost for the year, Cavanaugh tossed him into the mix and he quickly adapted.
“Sam’s excited because he goes, ‘Wow, it’s kind of nice in here. I don’t have to deal with all that space,’” Cavanaugh said. “It’s a little bit easier inside as far as mano y mano goes; you don’t have to worry about the edge by yourself.”
>> Junior walk-on wide receiver Bryan Reimers, a Lincoln East product, is living the dream of the countless Nebraska kids who have grown up watching the Huskers. With Brandon Reilly suspended for Saturday’s game, Reimers is elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart at X receiver.
“Growing up I always wanted to play here but never thought the moment would actually come, but it’s here and I’m ready to go,” Reimers said. “I’m excited for it.”
Last year, 6-foot-4 Lane Hovey carved out a role for himself, catching 12 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. During the spring, Hovey transferred to Montana, opening the door for the 6-foot-5 Reimers to crack the rotation.
“When he left, it was sad, disappointing, but it obviously gave me the opportunity to step up and earn a role,” Reimers said.
Reimers did exactly that with his work in the spring and fall, and will now get a chance to catch the ball in front of friends and family for the first time.
“I’ve gotten a lot of texts and stuff about that,” Reimers said. “It’s really awesome to see. I’ve worked hard for it and I think I’ve earned that spot. I’m just trying to keep it right now, see what I can do and earn that playing time.”
>> True freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien, who the team hopes to redshirt, is splitting his practice time between the scout team and the offense.
“He practices half with the scouts and half with us,” Langsdorf said. “We want him to learn and get exposed to what we’re doing but also get work down there with the scout team.”
>> Wide receiver Alonzo Moore on his mindset heading into his senior season:
“Just come out and play hard and dedicate everything I do to Sam Foltz.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.