Yes, I know it's a Spring game. It's a practice. It's a situation where the plays are minimal, the originality almost non-existent and everyone seems to know what everyone is going to do.
That's why today's game was what I would call special.
Jamal Turner, a freshman who moved to wide receiver, has a monster day, returning one punt 59 yards, taking a deep pass in for a score, where he somersaulted into the end zone - and basically being a pain in the butt to anyone who tried to take him down.
Then there was Kenny Bell, a redshirt freshman wide receiver who had just 23 yards receiving, but put a move on fellow redshirt freshman, cornerback Dijon Washington, that left Washington grasping for air and saw Bell streaking down the field for his biggest gain of the day.
Then there was Brion Carnes, yet another redshirt freshman, who looked the best of all the quarterbacks, completing 11 of his 15 passing attempts for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, Taylor Martinez and Cody Green, both who started this last practice of Spring, got very limited reps in what was a very vanilla scheme. But again, that's why Carnes looked so good. He may have had more opportunities, but you can either make something out of those or you won't. He did. The same can be said for fellow quarterback Ron Kellogg III, who was 11 of 19 for 123 yards.
|Running and throwing, redshirt freshman Brion Carnes looked the smoothest of all the quarterbacks today.|
It hardly stops there as Robert Barry, the towering tight end who comes in at around 6-8, had one of the most dynamic leaping grabs for the scrimmage. He led the red team in both receptions with four and yards as he totaled 51 on the day.
On the defensive side you only had to look at that interior line to find young players who made some plays of their own. Jay Guy, going into his redshirt freshman year, showed that motor he's so well known for as well as being quick off the ball. They said the low man wins, and at just around six foot and playing the defensive line, he used his physical advantage against a mixed and matched offensive line that didn't have a lot of answers for him. The same can be said for true freshman Kevin Williams, who barely resembles the slight but sturdy DT I saw visiting Nebraska just last year. At least 20 lbs. bigger, but certainly no slower, he showed great quickness and like Guy, a superb motor.
You realize I haven't talked about anyone who is even a sophomore?
Zach Taylor, typical to his running style at Lincoln Southeast that gave so many opponents fits in just trying to get him down, averaged 6.2 yards per carry as he led the red team in carries (10), yards (62) and he even threw in a score.
But, of course, there were some savvy veterans who made their own mark, but not quite in the way many might have expected. Tyler Legate, the tenacious and experienced fullback, carried and yes, I said carried....the ball..six times, probably a Spring game team record for carries for a fullback, at least the last six to seven years. Two of those carries went for touchdowns. As he went in for his second score, I could almost hear Kent Pavelka exclaim "And Shades of Schlesinger as Legate goes in for the score. Touchdown, Touchdown, Touchdown."
Then there was Rex Burkhead, Mr. Steady, who looks even better as a runner right now than he did most of last season.
I know, I know. I can hear you say it or you are probably thinking it. And it's something that I myself have preached year after year.
It's the Spring game. It means nothing.
But I actually disagree this time.
Not only was this a Bo Pelini Spring game, it was even watered down by his standards. Remember, this Spring they have been trying to put in a new offense, trying to acclimate a slew of new coaches with the players and the players with them. And the defense was changing a bit too, as we all know about the new philosophy as the team gets ready to move into the Big Ten.
There was no way anyone could get super fancy, outside of perhaps orchestrating some trick plays that never happened and just maybe getting a few penalties called on them on purpose.
You remember those sideline penalties on the red team?
All three of them?
Yeah, the coaches know how to have fun, too.
The thing is, that's what it is. It's the last practice, and the originality factor is simply void, gone, not there, not even a consideration. If you are going to make plays in a game like this, you might have to make most of them on your own.
It's not to say that these teams, mixed and matched through a Draft system prior to the game, didn't have its moments. There was some good, but especially with some of the experienced players, some not very good at all.
|Redshirt frehsman Kenny Bell proved to be as electrifying as Turner was at times.|
That's where I don't think that you look into it too much. But without putting the horse behind the cart right now, these are things I believe I can say will happen this year.
Brion Carnes will be number two by Fall. He showed a poise in the pocket and a fluidity that even during this practice I hadn't heard much about. I had heard he was a smooth player, a good decision maker and he had a decent arm. But his accuracy was apparently an issue.
I think Jamal Turner, is simply amazing. He's legit. He's for real. He's that kind of kid that makes you hold your breath when he touches the ball. I remember more than a couple of times in the press box where the name of Bobby Newcombe came up, the former standout playmaker for the Huskers during the early 2000s. A little different in size, but both give you so many of the same things, and this team hasn't had one of those in awhile.
Kenny Bell is electrifying in his own right, and while I still think he's in dire need of a few more sandwiches, that kid can make people look pretty silly in the open field. He's got speed, explosiveness, and most of the dropped balls I saw today weren't by guys who haven't played.
Josh Mitchell, another exciting freshman, has the same kind of moves that Bell and Turner have. But if there is one thing he needs to learn is that the goal line is that way, and not going side to side. He's exciting, but he's going to have to learn the north/south concept a bit better, because he was going more east and west in this one.
I found myself thinking about a lot of things of this team that I honestly didn't think would even come up. Yeah, they are talented, but do they have "IT." Sure, they are fast, but can they catch a ball, read a hole or even tackle?
I haven't even talked about Brett Maher who had the game winning field goal. But it's his punting that absolutely amazed me. If you were you know what kind of wind Maher had to deal with, and the fact that it wasn't always going the same direction during any one particular play. He still managed to boom the ball, one a towering 55-yarder which to me, just kind of defied physics. I'm still not completely sold on his field goal kicking, but that kid can punt, no doubt about it.
And if you were worried about back up at middle linebacker, I think many who saw this game probably came out a bit relieved as yet another freshman, this one Trevor Roach, had a heck of a game, tying for the lead on the red team with six tackles, one of those for a loss of four yards.
How about Eric Martin, who in the first quarter looked almost unstoppable? I don't think Tyler Moore, the true freshman offensive lineman, wants too much more of that. You could see who had the advantage, and it wasn't him. Moore will have his shots, but Martin disproved another theory I had in that it was only going to be a matter of time before he moved back to middle linebacker. He still may, if they get in trouble back there, but his skill set, quickness, motor and size actually could give Nebraska a weapon from the down position off that edge, that they simply didn't have.
It's almost a gushing appraisal of a game that doesn't mean anything, isn't it? I suppose it is, but as cynical as I might be many times, I couldn't just discard individual performances like these. That's why these games are special to fans. That's what they come to see. It's not the Xs and Os. It's not how well a team executes. They want to see big plays.
They got them today, and in bunches.
And many of them from kids who have never played a game.
A foretelling of the future? A coincidence? A masterful plan by Bo Pelini?
I don't know what it was, but it was damn fun to watch.
and I never thought I would say that about a Spring game either.