LINCOLN, Neb. — Coach Mike Riley finally revealed the format of Saturday’s spring game after practice on Thursday.
Unlike the offense-versus-defense format fans saw last season, this year the team will be split up into two squads as determined by the coaches by Friday afternoon.
“We will incorporate a little special teams but there will be no live work,” Riley said. “As a matter of fact, it will just be the kicker and the returners and we want to look for a touchback or where he might place the ball — 25, 30, 35 — depending on the placement of the kick. We want to give those guys a chance to catch the ball, make choices what they’re going to do. Then the punt, we want to give Caleb [Lightbourn] four, five punts with the group in here. There won’t be any live return on it but we want the punting done and we will attempt field goals and kick extra points with Drew [Brown] and then the other guys here. We’re going to try to give everybody the opportunity to do something with their specialty in play.
“We will play the first half as a regular time, 15-minute quarters, all the time restraints and TV timeouts, all that stuff, so kind of normal, regular time of the game, officiated like that, and then the second half we’ll do 30 minutes of running clock, two 15-minute quarters.”
The defense will also not be allowed to hit the quarterback.
“Officials will make a decision on the sack or not, which is always interesting,” Riley said. “Somebody will argue; that’s just a given.”
Wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. was in a green no-contact jersey for practice on Thursday and his status for Saturday is still to be determined. Wide receiver Bryan Reimers, who also missed some practice time, should be good to go.
>> Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf offered his evaluation of the offense’s performance in last Saturday’s scrimmage, which consisted mostly of specific situation work.
“I thought we were really good on first down, and first down success got us into good second-down and then eventually third-down situations, so that part of it was encouraging,” Langsdorf said. “We had a second-and-long situation where it was harder on us but I thought we did a pretty good job of getting us into those third-and-medium, third-and-short situations … We were kind of 50-50 on third down, some good, some bad.”
One goal the Huskers have shared is establishing some “identity runs” that the Huskers can rely on to move the ball, and Langsdorf said the progress throughout the spring has been good.
“I like the progress we’ve made in a couple areas, establishing a few things that we really can repeat and feel good about,” Langsdorf said. “I think that’s shown up. We’ve had different emphasis periods throughout practices. Even in the scrimmages we haven’t run everything. We’ve kind of tried to narrow a few things down and I like how we’ve come out of those scrimmages feeling good.”
>> Langsdorf said the coaches hope to name a starting quarterback “as soon as we can” and prior to fall camp, although they have not set any definitive deadline for themselves. All three scholarship coaches have impressed Langsdorf with their desire to learn.
“I think that’s been great,” Langsdorf said. “You just see them around all the time. They’re always in the office, they’re always asking questions, they’re getting extra work. You can’t get Tristan out of here. Both scrimmages, I’m getting ready to go home and he’s still in there watching it again and asking questions. That part of it’s been a lot of fun. They’re gym rats.”
>> Along the offensive line, Langsdorf said a group of players have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, although the team still has not decided on who the top five will be.
“I think there’s probably a group of six, seven guys that are battling,” Langsdorf said. “There’s going to be a front-line five and then another couple that are really pushing to get into that mix of starting. You’re going to see some good battles at center with [Cole] Conrad and [Michael] Decker and [John] Raridon’s taking snaps. You can see [Tanner] Farmer and Boe Wilson battling it out. There are some good interior match-ups in there that we’re still looking at. There are guys that I think we feel good about, but you really want to settle that down to five and get them to jell and play together, so that will be important in this game to continue to watch that.”
With Conrad moving to center, the starting tackle positions look set with returners Nick Gates and David Knevel. Kneel opened the season as the starter, but injuries slowed him down and Conrad closed out the season at right tackle.
Knevel said the injury-plagued season — his first as a starter — was a frustrating experience.
“The thing with soft tissue [injuries] is you can go out and do things, but the pain is always in the back of your head,” Knevel said.
Knevel said he has been working hard this offseason to add strength — not as much so that he can more easily move defenders on the field, but more so that his body can stand up to the hits and stay healthy.
As for his play on the field, Knevel said the defensive scheme change has actually helped him to improve his own craft.
“Previous years I’ve gone against one guy all spring and fall camp, and that was Ross Dzuris — great player — but the biggest difference this year is I have a variety of guys I’m going against with the different personnel and formations,” Knevel said. “I think I’ve become more adaptable and more familiar with different rushes and the way people play runs plays.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.