Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Post-Spring Game Husker Quotes That Caught My Ear—and What They Mean

April 14, 2022

The spring portion of Nebraska football’s offseason has come and gone. Now the team will take a much-needed break before venturing into summer workouts.

With the team playing its second consecutive week zero game to start a season, those summer workouts will begin sooner than normal, just like they did last year when the Huskers opened at Illinois on Aug. 28. This year, Nebraska will travel over 4,000 miles to Dublin, Ireland, to play their opener against Northwestern on Aug. 27.

The Huskers are no different than the rest of the college football programs in the spring. There are certain areas of the team that need more work than others. For Nebraska, yes, there are legitimate questions surrounding the defense. That side of the ball loses plenty of experience and leadership from a year ago. But the biggest transition is being made on the offense—there’s an almost entirely-new coaching staff that is learning to work together and install a new attack led by a coaching veteran of 40-plus years, Mark Whipple.

“We need more work on Xs and Os and stuff on the field,” head coach Scott Frost said after the spring game, “particularly on offense where there’s new stuff. We didn’t show any of it today, but new stuff we’re doing that kids just need more reps at and we need to be a little tighter with everything we’re doing. It’ll be a good mix going forward of a sped-up summer conditioning and a little more work with coaches when we’re allowed to.”

With the spring game in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to revisit that day and touch on quotes that might have caught your ear following the game.

Frost on the center position: “Trent’s (Hixson) had a really good spring. (Ethan) Piper’s behind him and had a really good spring, too. A lot of what those guys are doing up front has helped them, I think it’s just kind of taken the handcuffs off them and let them go. But Trent’s one of the guys I’d highlight who has really taken a giant leap forward, and I feel good about that position with those two guys there.”

What it means to me: The center is the most important position on the offensive line—it acts as the quarterback of the unit. Cam Jurgens’ departure leaves a big hole to fill, and it comes at a bad time as the 2022 season appears to be a make-or-break campaign for Frost. Piper was seen on the sideline with his arm in a sling during the spring game, so we don’t know exactly what his availability will look like when fall camp begins.

Unless there’s a transfer portal addition this offseason, it seems like Hixson, the Omaha Skutt High School product, is the guy at center right now. Hixson has playing experience as he started every game of the 2019 season at left guard and two last season, against Oklahoma and Michigan State. It remains to be seen where Turner Corcoran will play once he’s back at practice, too—center might be an option.

To me, this is the most interesting part of that quote from Frost: “I think it’s just kind of taken the handcuffs off them and let them go.” With first-year offensive line coach Donovan Raiola teaching things his own way, it seems like there’s been an emphasis on less thinking and more doing at the o-line. We won’t know what kind of difference that will make until the season begins. On the surface, it sounds like a big ask for an o-line to be transitioning to a new way of doing things in a season where the offense and quarterback is new and the head coach needs to show improvement. Then again, maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe simpler is better.

Running back Rahmir Johnson on his room and position coach, Bryan Applewhite: “Like coach always says, he’s trying to build diamonds and burst pipes, and he’s building some diamonds for sure. So I’ve thought we’ve looked good out there all spring.”

Nebraska running back Rahmir Johnson carries during the spring game on April 9, 2022.

Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Rahmir Johnson (14) weaves through the defense during their annual Red White game in Lincoln, Nebraska April 9, 2022. Photo by Eric Francis

What it means to me: One thing that you have to like about coaches in any sport is they find unique ways—and sayings—to motivate their players. Applewhite is no different, and his “build diamonds and burst pipes” approach is excellent. Johnson went on to explain that “burst pipes” means Applewhite is trying to create running backs who don’t crack when the pressure increases, and Applewhite is putting plenty of pressure on the Husker backs.

The last of the new offensive coaches to be hired in the offseason, Applewhite, who came from TCU, has his own way of doing things. That was apparent when he was asked how he’d determine a starting running back early in the spring. Here’s his answer:

“When I send out the depth chart, just so you guys know, I’m not gonna have a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. It’s going to be Or, Or, Or, Or. Because it’s 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D because, if I’ve done my job correctly, then they’re all a one,” Applewhite said. “To me, it doesn’t matter who gets the first carry. I’ve never seen a football game be decided on the first carry of the game, it’s the ones after that. That’s what matters.”

Applewhite has intriguing pieces to work with this season. Right now, the top three backs look to be Johnson, Anthony Grant and Jaquez Yant. If fully healthy from his season-ending knee injury in the Oklahoma game from last year, Gabe Ervin Jr. is capable of contributing, too. Ajay Allen, a talented four-star back from Louisiana who Applewhite had committed to TCU but flipped to Nebraska on signing day, will add even more competition when he arrives in the summer.

Build diamonds and burst pipes. Yeah, I like that.

Quarterback Chubba Purdy on his spring game: “It felt great. I mean, this was really, honestly, my third practice really. I was back Monday, Tuesday, full pads, and I got to do some team stuff, two-minute drill, and it felt great. So today was just awesome, being out there with the boys.”

What it means to me: Purdy, a Florida State transfer who was probably eyeing the QB1 role at Nebraska when he committed from the portal, basically didn’t have a spring. He he was throwing 7-on-7 drills when he first got to Lincoln, but had to stop when his foot didn’t feel right. Being limited to only mental reps instead of mental and physical reps derailed any notion of outperforming Casey Thompson, who’s the leader in the the Huskers’ quarterback competition.

To get healthy, Purdy stayed off the foot and “unplugged and just sat around and was watching film” and said that his foot healed during the six weeks of spring ball. Now, he’s likely looking at competing for the backup job with Logan Smothers.

For a guy who didn’t get many team reps this spring, Purdy looked awfully comfortable in the pocket during the scrimmage. He was also the quarterback who had the prettiest completion—a 27-yarder to tight end AJ Rollins. Smothers also threw a pretty deep ball to receiver Oliver Martin, but corner Quinton Newsome made a great play to get the pass breakup.

Purdy, who went 5-of-10 for 63 yards in the scrimmage, looked poised and had zip on his passes. It’s no wonder why Oklahoma and its rising offensive coordinator, Jeff Lebby, were interested during the recruiting process.

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