Time Out, with Joe Flanagan
Spring has sprung.
Some sunshine, warmer temperatures, and Husker football.
That’s pretty much the definition of a perfect spring day for Nebraskans, wouldn’t you say?
Husker Coach Mike Riley and 78, 312 of his Big Red friends wouldn’t argue after Saturday’s annual Red-White Spring Game at Memorial Stadium.
A beaming Riley called it “a postcard day.”
The throng of fans reveled in seeing the stadium gates swinging open, visiting with old friends, and getting the first live glimpses of three precocious quarterbacks, on whose arms the Huskers’ immediate identity will be forged.
A total of 96 passes rained through the air Saturday – whew! – a much higher ratio than Coach Riley or the fans want to see come fall, when the stakes are real. But this was the day to let the kids air it out against a vanilla defensive approach that didn’t want to give opponents a view of Nebraska’s new look on that side of the ball.
Oh yes, that defense.
Husker fans were anxious to see the 3-4 scheme new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco installed throughout the first 14 spring practices of 2017. They will have to wait until NU lines up against Arkansas State Sept. 2.
Diaco and Riley chose not to unveil their plans to the world – or Oregon, or Wisconsin, or Ohio State – and stuck with a familiar 4-3 defensive look Saturday. And, while the defenders played hard and made plays, the absence of exotic blitz schemes and all-out pass rush pressure allowed a bit more freedom for the “air show.”
Did I mention 62 of those 96 attempts were completed? For 693 yards? And five touchdowns? Not bad for three slingers playing in front of the largest crowd each had ever seen. Even if that crowd was 100% friendly.
Yes, it was a fun day, even if just a glorified practice scrimmage. But an important day, too. A special day for a family and a pocket of football fans from Northeast Nebraska, who watched one of their own shine bright.
That would be, of course, former Boone Central/Newman Grove star Wyatt Mazour, a walkon from Albion, who merely led all rushers (61 yards) and receivers (81 yards) and scored a 4th quarter touchdown.
It’s safe to say, all Husker Nation is now aware of our little secret.
Earlier this spring, Coach Riley good-naturedly called Mazour “our Danny Woodhead.” That got the attention of fans who might not have known who the former Cardinal flash was. His teammates picked up on it, calling him “Danny.” Saturday, he looked a bit like Danny.
There was a 29 yard run, a 26 yard reception, the TD burst. Quickness, speed, agility. And, nods from Cardinal fans. Yep, we’ve seen that before.
Judging by his performance, and postgame comments by Coach Riley, we’ll be seeing it again in the future.
Of course, these days the spring game is about more than the actual play on the field. What was once a lazy afternoon ritual for a smattering of sun-drenched fans is now an aggressive program utilizing near-sellout crowds to impress a dizzying array of highly-rated recruits.
Coach Riley calls recruiting the “lifeblood” of a program and makes no bones about NU fans and the spring spectacle playing a large part in Nebraska’s success.
Nothing in this world is ever quite perfect. But, everything together, Saturday didn’t miss by much. If you didn’t leave Memorial Stadium feeling pretty darn good about your Huskers, you missed the koolaid vendor I bought from.
Yes indeed, mine was bright red, double-size, sweet and satisfying. But also leaving me in want of just a bit more.
There’s a summer yet to savor, but I’m already anticipating that first Saturday of September.
Go Big Red!