This scrimmage could decide a season

The first big scrimmage. Junior Day. Give it to Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan for once again setting the stage as he seems to be able to do with incredible precision. It may not be in Memorial Stadium, but there's little doubt that the masses will be enjoying the show nonetheless. And based on the spring thus far, this day marking the halfway point, it should be a heck of a show indeed.

Last year, the Saturday before the annual Red/White game, the media was lucky enough to get to see the quarterbacks take off the green jerseys and open themselves up to contact.


A lot of contact


Following what was already a pretty physical spring, sporting the "Oklahoma" drill and the one-on-one call-out drills, where one player matches up against the other to see who can push who backwards, that scrimmage was the finale' of the physical practices.


If we can take what we learned from last year and apply it to this year, today should be no different.


Actually, that would be a bad thing


Not the physical aspect mind you, but the fact that what we saw in the scrimmage before the spring game actually ended up being pretty close to what happened during the regular season.


I remember watching Le Kevin Smith come up the middle almost untouched, leveling quarterback Zac Taylor, and Smith's full 300 pounds coming to rest on top of the first year QB, with a thud.


During the regular season, if it wasn't up the middle, it was off the edges or just about anywhere you can imagine – Zac Taylor taking one hit after another and yes, players landing on him with an equally emphatic thud.


During the scrimmage before the spring game last year, rushing yards were few and the defensive line might as well have been dubbed "Maginot." The only problem was, the Husker offense couldn't go around it, so they were stifled almost for the entirety of the scrimmage.


During the regular season, outside of some sporadically courageous performances by running back Cory Ross, the running game of the Huskers was almost invisible. The offensive, though, seemingly better at the end, was horrid for almost the entirety of the season.


Fast forward to this scrimmage, if we are to assume that what we see today is a reflection of what we will see this year, you can hope that senior defensive ends Adam Carriker and Jay Moore will be stopped. You can also wish for an offensive line, which will open gaps, create lanes and be able to open up holes for their running backs, who are combined, far less experienced than the running back they to replace.


Basically, you better hope for an ugly outcome


Now, we know the Red/White game will be anything but that. That's how they are drawn up, a spectacle more than a game – the design being one which will have the throngs of fans and recruits buzzing as they leave the stadium with the sheer precision they saw on offense, the ferocity on defense and the effectiveness of special teams.


Yeah, it's a window dressing campaign


That's ok, though. Would you rather see the offense and defense going nuts, putting up all kinds of gaudy stats or would you rather see something like you saw at Oklahoma last year, the final score resembling a baseball game more than it did one played on the gridiron.


Nobody wants to see that


This scrimmage today, THAT is the one where you find out just where the offense and defense are at. Is the running game coming along? Is the pass protection any better and if it is, can that secondary stand up to the onslaught from Taylor and his now experienced group of wide receivers?


Going into this scrimmage, though, there's already a few things we know based on the previous practices of this session, all of which included some physical and intense scrimmaging:


Taylor is better – He's had his moments where he's struggled, but there's little doubt that this senior has taken the next step in his progression. He's reading the defenses better, making better reads and it was three days before he threw his first interception.


The Offensive Line is better – I'm not ready to sell out and say the "pipeline" is back, because there's a major difference between last year's line and any Husker line that truly deserved that label. That said, this group is better.


They are pass blocking better, actually opening up running lanes and unlike last year, at times, even some of them are dominating. Matt Slauson, having just showed a glimpse of what he could do late last year, has blossomed this spring. He's the one offensive lineman that can say he can actually go toe-to-toe with Adam Carriker and give as good as he gets.


The Wide Receivers are better – From Nathan Swift, who is even more physical than he was last year, but not sacrificing any of his agility and ability to catch almost anything in reach, to Terrence Nunn, who I don't believe has dropped a single ball all spring – this group is really turning the corner.


Add a sure-handed and opportunistic Todd Peterson, a rising Tyrell Spain, who shows a bit of everything you want in this offense, and Frantz Hardy, who's learning how to get off of the line. That's a good group and Isaiah Fluellen is healthy………..still, and there's a host of other players who should participate and contribute even if they don't star.


The Linebackers are scary – Think about the fact that there are still two missing linebackers, both starters in Bo Ruud and Stewart Bradley and this group is still dominating at times. Between all the contributions from McKeon to Octavien, Brandenburgh to Dillard, this group is going to be more than potent.


They are going to be off the hook, as the kids like to say and when you hear the word "Live" in association with scrimmage and throw in quarterbacks, who aren't sporting the green jerseys, you need a bucket for the drool coming off of their chins.


Ndamukong Suh is a monster – To listen to Suh himself, he's got a long ways to go in his progression in regard to his technique. That may be true, but ask any of the interior linemen what they think of trying to handle this young man as it is. They can't and more often than not don't, and it's only the double team that keeps this sophomore out of the backfield almost every play. What a future this young man has.


The secondary is fast – They will probably have to prove a lot on the field before they get that ultimate respect, but physically, this group is solid. Between Shanle and Green at safety and Bowman and Grixby at corner, you have got speed to burn and none of them are afraid to be physical when they have a chance.


There's a lot more we picked up, but there's going to be even more we learn from a scrimmage today, which should have no less than 50 live snaps. You'll learn how Harrison Beck stands under fire and that is with guys like Suh and Barry Turner breathing down his neck. You will learn how the tight ends are adjusting, still without Matt Herian, but a couple with a new role as H-back, which is basically a player that is part tight end, part fullback.


The special teams will get tested, the lines will get pushed and when the dust settles, what we see today may indeed be a foretelling of what's to come in the Fall. I know everyone would like to see everyone dominate, but that's not how these things go. And to be honest, the defense has a distinct edge and they haven't lost a scrimmage-contest yet.


This is the kind of scrimmage both units want, though, and the have had almost a full two days to rest up and get ready to go head-to-head.


What the coaches want is good execution and for everyone that went in healthy to come out the same way. What the fans probably want to hear about is yards galore by Taylor and a running game, which is finally back on track.


He'll get his, the running game will hopefully get theirs and the defense will hopefully get theirs as well. When your team is facing your team, there really never is a clear winner or loser. It's simply the execution that matters and the intensity they showed on the field.


They'll get that today and then some. Based on what we have seen thus far this spring, intensity is the last thing you have to ask for, because it's the first thing you should expect.


Now, just so everyone finishes healthy for the spring game and summer conditioning, everyone will end up the winner.


Stick right here to Big Red Report as after the scrimmage, we'll bring you sound bytes with the head coach, interviews with players and we'll talk about what they thought, the good, the bad and maybe even the ugly.


Stay Tuned

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