The Big Red Revival’s dress rehearsal was more of a shocking reveal. For all of the coach-derived vintage vibes that put a record number of butts in seats (at a place where attendance records are pretty hard to break), the main takeaway was that this isn’t a revival at all, but a reimagining of Nebraska football.
Yes, the coach is pretty familiar. Yes, he’s familiar enough with this place to remember the stadium-food smells. Yes, he has said good things about the great things that happened in the past.
But if you were confusing that with a return to what Nebraska used to be, Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage should’ve cleared things up. If things get up and running, the results may eventually feel vintage, but the play will look like an attempt to prove that faster-than-light football is possible.
Felt like it already was here to me.
I like to chart each play of a game. I’ve done it for every game since the start of the 2013 season and it leaves me with a nice “book,” similar to baseball, at the end.
This offense is not conducive to real-time charting. About three drives behind. pic.twitter.com/qSae59272s
— Brandon Vogel (@brandonlvogel) April 21, 2018
On Saturday, I gave up trying to do that after two drives. I’ve got a lot of offseason work ahead to get to a point where I can keep up with what is now Nebraska’s offense. The Red team, pretty close to the “first team” at this early stage, ran 80 plays in a game with a running clock in the second half. That was over 13 drives, what teams typically get in a normal game, and one of those drives, a 2-play touchdown drive, started at the White’s 9-yard line.
We knew this was coming, of course, but seeing Oregon, Baylor or UCF-like offensive fireworks on this turf for the first time was jarring. It wasn’t just the pace, but the space, too. The Huskers took shots down field, found wide-open receivers often and broke big runs. The Red team had nine runs of 10-plus yards on Saturday. Last year’s offense had 44 in 12 games.
Yeah, yeah, I know: This isn’t a real game against a real defense. Even after considering all of the standard disclaimers, I still couldn’t stop thinking ‘this is Nebraska now?’
Well, maybe not now, but soon. It’s still early in the process, and you don’t reimagine a program, move it from the middle-of-nowhere in the national pecking order back to the forefront of the sport, overnight. You have to put in the work to get that cutting-edge offense up to speed. You have to think hard about recruiting strategy.
You have to label the bagels.
That was another newly imagined detail on tiny display Saturday. Next to the Classen Performance Nutrition bar outside the weight room, where some of the postgame interviews are conducted, I took a look at the bread bins. They were all labeled along with a carb count represented by emojis. (Gotta talk to today’s athlete in the language they’re already using.) A plain bagel gets you three carbs, or 1.5 . Go for cinnamon, and it’s .
You can wash that down with a turmeric-ginger shot, the anti-inflammatory benefits of which were touted on a board on the bar. Maybe Nebraska’s offensive line will get back to stacking up pancakes like it used to. Maybe that will happen in part because of Scott Frost’s familiarity with what’s worked in Lincoln in the past. But if it does come to pass, you might also have to give a little credit to turmeric-ginger tonics.
Maybe the music, too. A playlist of hits and indistinguishable electronic music throbbed throughout Saturday’s game. It faded pretty nicely into the background most of the time, but all of the sudden you’d hear a song you recognized and be reminded, “Oh, right, music has been playing this whole time.” At a football game.
My personal favorite mash-up came late in the second quarter when true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez ran through a truck-sized hole in the middle of the line for a 6-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw, one of football’s greatest hits. He did this as Rihanna’s “We Found Love” beat away in the background, one of the greatest hits of 2011.
And it's details like this that make me wonder how Jason Peter feels about it? Or Charlie McBride? Or any great former Husker who is cut from more archetypal football cloth because these are not typical football things.
That’s the delightful juxtaposition happening in Lincoln right now. Husker fans got their hero to return home, but he spent the past 20 years on the forefront of the sport as a coach. He’ll look to the past for the pieces he can use, and talk about those pieces lovingly, but it’s not all that’s happening.
What’s really happening is that Nebraska football is being brought back up-to-speed, and once it gets there the plan is for it to race back into the lead.
And that’s when it will feel old again. The “revival” will be at the end.
The reimagining, however, is already underway.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.