Nebraska's annual Red-White Game was plenty full of storylines to consider as the Huskers wrap up spring ball. Brandon Vogel, Greg Smith and Derek Peterson touch on a few as we put a bow on Saturday's game.
Saturday’s spring game wasn’t about defense. They rarely are, something defensive coordinator Erik Chinander made clear a week before kickoff. “I want the fans to get something for what they paid for, we’re going to play some football and make it look as good as we can,” he said. Translation: People want to see touchdowns and Chinander’s fine with that.
(Aside: He seems to have a pretty peaceful relationship with touchdowns for a defensive guy. In theory, they should be his archnemesis, but Chinander seems well aware of the modern realities of football. You’re going to give up some points, you just have to give up less than the other guy. Being paired with a high-powered offense probably helps with that.)
Anyway, there were some defensive takeaways to be had on Saturday. Chinander has laid out the equation for successful defense of sacks-plus-turnovers-minus-explosive-plays. That’s some good, modern-football math. Make and control those game-swinging plays and a defense can survive giving up yards. How did Chinander’s Red squad do?
Not bad. Acknowledging that the spring game format didn’t allow for true sacks, the Red tallied three, each of them credited to Alex Davis. If he can develop into a pass-rushing option, that’s good news for the Blackshirts in 2018. Turnovers? Red grabbed three, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Explosive plays? White managed seven, and just two of those were in the run game. Probably like to see that total a little lower, but if a defense can force three turnovers and get nine tackles for loss, it’s good enough.
Most of the attention has gone to the offense, but don’t overlook the fact that Chinander’s defense did pretty well in the categories it cares most about.
One of the big talking points throughout the spring was related to being in shape. It began when Scott Frost took over the program and said the team needed to be in better shape. It continued after winter conditioning when the gains were noticeable from many players and they could easily recite how much fat they cut and lean muscle mass they put on. Even though improvements have been made, the staff and players would tell you there is a long way to go.
One of the worries, once spring ball is over, is that the players are around the coaching staff a lot less and therefore could lose some of the gains they have made not just physically but also in learning the playbook.
There were two players who spoke after the spring game yesterday who said something that caught my attention on that subject. Tyjon Lindsey said he’s going to take a lot of classes this summer and not go back home to California in May. He wants to stay here in Lincoln to keep working and said there are too many distractions at home.
When I asked Jack Stoll about this summer and what needs to be focused on, his answer should give the staff hope.
“We are still going to be going out there doing drills regardless of if the coaches are able to be out there or not," he said. "Everyone in the tight end room needs to continue to put on lean muscle mass. That’s one of the goals we had this winter. We did a good job starting that and this summer we will continue that to get closer to our end goal.
"The summer is a good time to get the playbook down. Only having 13 practices and knowing the playbook for a couple months before we come in here and have this huge spring game, it’s difficult to learn things to some extent. It will be awesome to be around the playbook for a few more months to learn the ins and outs.”
There is a lot of work to be done in the next phase of the Big Red Revival but if more and more players are taking ownership of the process like Lindsey and Stoll, the culture Frost and his staff want to build will start to sink in.
Can we please talk about how ridiculous it was that a kid caught a perfect-spiral punt and won $25,000? How did he get chosen? Did they not have, oh I don't know, a tryout and then pick the worst kid? Are they doing it again? (Asking for a friend.) It was cool, though, to see the kid actually catch it and see the team subsequently mob him at midfield. First guy I saw out running was Tyjon Lindsey — arms spread out wide — with this huge smile on his face.
That was my laugher of an attempt at a transition. This is really about Lindsey.
The sophomore had a quiet afternoon on the stat sheet (four catches for 18 yards, one run for 28 yards) but it was the usage that got me excited. Dude was all over the field.
The first play of the game, Lindsey lined up in a split backfield opposite Mikale Wilbon. He motioned out wide, he motioned into the backfield, he caught passes, he took handoffs. It’s not surprising, we expected this new coaching staff to utilize guys like Lindsey and JD Spielman all over the field in attempts to put them in space, but it’s nice to actually see those things in action.
There are two things working in Lindsey’s favor, I think, this season. (I mean, there are more, but these are the big ones.) One was on display yesterday and the other he talked about after the game. The first being that Lindsey is going to benefit so much from playing alongside Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman. There’s going to be room to run with all the defensive attention on everyone else and while you couldn’t see that yesterday, I think you have to feel good about Lindsey still being involved in action when those guys come back just because of how he was used.
The second, the thing he talked about after, is just playing with more confidence this season.
“Last year I was very scared,” he said. “I was new. I was a freshman. [It was a] new type of offense. My biggest downfall in that was I was always nervous going into the game I never wanted to mess up because it was my freshman year. I always just had that in the back of my mind, ‘Don’t mess up, don’t mess up.’”
So, once again, we have a case of someone being freed up by this new coaching staff’s “No Fear of Failure” motto. Keep an eye on the young wideout.