Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

On-Field, Off-Field Excitement Planned for Matt Rhule’s First Nebraska Spring Game

April 21, 2023

Competitive football is back in Lincoln. Well, that’s relative. The outcome is inconsequential. The actual football played—the aggressive clattering of pads and muscles—will be competitive, as vowed by head coach Matt Rhule.

There’s a lot happening Saturday around Memorial Stadium, from the festivities down the ball minutia. Loyal familiars and avid readers may be up to speed completely. Congrats and thanks for reading. Others may have missed something. Here is a run down for those coming to Memorial Stadium for this year’s Spring Game, whether they’re season ticket holders, coming from the panhandle or flying in for their first time.

Add extra travel time. Athletic director Trev Alberts recommends fans allow for extra time getting to the stadium. Not only is the parking situation dicy and traffic likely heavy with an estimated 65,000 in attendance, there’s noteworthy construction downtown. Lincolnites have been swearing at their odometer about two lanes being blocked along 9th Street but traveling fans may not be aware the Gold’s Building was torn down and work continues in its stead. There’s some minor work also along Antelope Valley Parkway. So, just allow some time.

Unity Walk. Nebraska always holds a Unity Walk before home games. Typically, that includes Spring Games but they’ve been sparsely attended. With this being Rhule’s first game (half-game?) as head coach, the university is putting word out about it more than usual. Interested fans can plan on meeting at the Bell Tower and lining out to Memorial Stadium by 10:30 a.m. when the team arrives.

New Herbie Husker. The national nightmare is over—overalls are back. Nebraska teased the new (sort of the old) Herbie Husker earlier this week. The new mascot will be unveiled to the public before kickoff on Saturday. Also be aware of the Herbie Husker flags hanging outside the stadium and the commemorative markers throughout the concourse.

The return of Frank Solich. Nebraska will recognize former head coach Solich at halftime of the Red-White Game. It’s the first time the Nebraska football program will publicly recognize him since he was fired in 2003. Alberts announced commemorative shirts will be sold with all proceeds going to the Frank Solich Scholarship. Staffers painted parts of Tom Osborne Field to honor Solich, there will be a video package and, Alberts promised, another surprise.

Rhule’s first game. The new head coach hasn’t ever roamed the sidelines in Memorial Stadium. He and his staff logged countless miles between the day after the Iowa game, when Nebraska announced Rhule’s hire, and now. He said on Thursday that his family will be there and he hopes it’s special but he’s also there for the work. Rhule is well aware of Husker Nation’s support. But 65,000 people at a scrimmage should still make an impression.

Meaningful contact. Coaches promised as close to a competitive game as they can get. Quarterbacks are entirely live and full contact is required. The Huskers regularly thud in practice instead of tag off. It’s everything short of taking someone to the ground. Expect all of that on Saturday.

Defensive pressure. Defensive coordinator Tony White wants to pressure quarterbacks and this spring showed it doesn’t matter if that quarterback plays for the same team. Rhule complimented the defense’s improvement in the last week and noted big-time sacks (short of free hit to the QB) by Quinton Newsome and Cameron Lenhardt in practice. Pressure can come from anywhere—corner, safety, rover, linebacker. Husker fans get their first look at the defense’s versatility on Saturday.

New faces. Wide receiver Billy Kemp IV, quarterback Jeff Sims and center Ben Scott stand out right away on the offense. All of them will likely get significant reps on Saturday. On defense, coaches like linebackers MJ Sherman and Chief Borders. Edge rushers Cameron Lenhardt and Princewill Umanmielen are both early enrollees who could be first-team edges in the fall. Transfer lineman Elijah Jeudy is also one to watch.

Physical running. Offensive linemen complimented coordinator Marcus Satterfield this spring with how he calls plays. They like that he values the line and gets after the defense. This coaching staff wants to establish the run and they’ve got a litany of worthy backs to do it with. Anthony Grant, Gabe Ervin Jr., Ajay Allen, Rahmir Johnson and Emmett Johnson all get their chances to shine behind a rotating offensive line. Oh, and don’t forget a potential fullback!

Recruits galore. The guest list continues to grow for recruits visiting for the Spring Game. Nebraska invited 2024 recruits and beyond, plus non-enrolled signees in the 2023 class. At last tally, over two dozen announced their attendance. Expect to see plenty of recruits on the sidelines and soaking in the sights and sounds of Nebraska football’s new era.

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