Red holds off White in Nebraska spring game
With a crowd of 76,881 on hand to witness the official debut of the Mike Riley era at Nebraska during the annual Red-White Spring Game on Saturday, it quickly became clear to all that there is still plenty of work to be done.
In the Red team's 24-15 victory over the White, neither offense was able to find much of any consistent rhythm in a game that saw eight punts, three interceptions and five turnovers on downs. In fact, the White team - made up primarily of younger, less experienced players - didn't even pick up a first down until 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
But the early learning curve certainly wasn't unexpected for Riley and his staff after just four weeks of spring practice. If anything, spring game was maybe the biggest step yet in learning what exactly the Huskers will have to work with once the games start up for real this fall.
"I thought it was, for the way it was set up, fairly clean," Riley said. "They played ball, executed for the most part. There wasn't a lot of self-destructive type situations with penalties and turnovers. There were some, for sure, but for the most part it was pretty good football. I was really excited to get to play kind of a complete game like that… I like the fact that we played a game where all the special teams were playing, and it was offense and defense. I think that has to be good for team's development in getting ready for a season.
"It looked like there were some nerves because of the crowd and playing in a situation like that. I think that was all good for them too. So the combination of all those kinds of factors I thought was a real good day for us."
While there weren't many noticeable differences in the Huskers' new offensive attack under Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, there were a few tweaks the stood out on the very first possession. Nebraska's quarterbacks took significantly more snaps under center, as well as usage of the screen pass and jet sweep run.
Led by incumbent starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong (6-of-12 passing for 77 yards), the Red team scored on its first two drives on an eight-yard touchdown run by Adam Taylor and then a 36-yard field goal by Drew Brown. The Red offense would eventually cool off a bit from there, and the White squad, with AJ Bush getting the start at quarterback, went three-and-out on five of its first six drives of the day.
Redshirt freshman Zack Darlington (7-of-11, 70 yards) had as good of a day as any of NU's quarterbacks, and he finally got the Red team on the board again with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jamal Turner to make it 17-0 with eight minutes left in the second quarter. The Red defense ended up pitching a first-half shut out, but Armstrong spotted the White squad two points by kneeling the ball in the end zone as time expired in the first half to make it 17-2 going into halftime.
The Red team got on the board again late in the third quarter on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to sophomore wide out De'Mornay Pierson-El along the right sideline, pushing the lead to 24-2. The White would then finally reach the end zone for the first time on a 52-yard swing pass from Ryker Fyfe to running back Jordan Nelson with just over 16 minutes to play.
The White team then struck again a few minutes later on a pretty 18-yard touchdown pass from Joe Broekemeier to wide out Jariah Tolbert in the back left corner of the end zone. A failed two-point conversion left the score at 24-15 with 9:19 remaining.
With spring practice now officially in the books, Riley said the coaching staff would get down to some serious evaluations of their roster and would have a depth chart in place going into the start of fall camp.
For Riley, his coaches and Nebraska's players, Saturday was a nice kickstart to what they hope is the beginning of a new era of success for Husker football.
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