I attended Nebraska's spring game with low enthusiasm on Saturday, and the on-field product matched my experience. Maybe it's because this Bo Pelini's seventh year here at Nebraska, with coordinators going into their fourth and third years, that it just feels like there wasn't a lot to see.
Obviously, that doesn't have to be a bad thing. The face of Nebraska football right now is Kenny Bell, who appears to be the furthest thing from a rah-rah guy. Quiet strength is still strength, so let's look at the major headlines and try not to do too much over-analyzing before the end of August gets here.
Attendance was virtually the same as last year's spring game, a good sign given that Husker basketball had taken considerable buzz away from the start of spring practice. Even though there probably won't be another sold-out spring game without a popular new coach or transfer quarterback, it's good to know that the university can count on strong, young attendance for the event.
The spring game still matters in terms of bringing in kids and marketing Husker football to a new generation. College football attendance has looked sparse, even at programs that have their act together, and don't think Nebraska won't have issues filing Memorial Stadium in the future. Oddly enough, it's probably cheaper for dad to take the two kids to the Spring Game if they take the drug-fee pledge, and that's a good thing
I'm all for using an alternate scoring system, but not for a set number of plays per quarter. Play with a clock and run the playclock, and play with kickoffs and punts, an area of your team that needs significant work. Running a no-huddle offense is about snapping the ball quickly, and part of the point of the spring game should be getting a quarterback used to look up at the playclock in the stadium, something he's not doing when the team is practicing inside.
By altering the game format significantly and putting his coaches on the field, it begs the question if Pelini has great concerns about his team going into this year. This is the time since 2010 he's going into the season without a sure-fire starter, and one of the biggest offensive line reboots he's ever had. While the former may grab more headlines, don't be surprised if the later is causing Pelini the most concern, as well it should.
Imani Cross appears lighter, quicker and like he will be an every-down back next year. Even with all his great moves, Ameer Abdullah probably needs another 5-10 lbs to be the ideal between-the-tackles pounder the Big 10 is accustomed to. Cross seems to be that back.
It was disappointing not to see Jamal Turner get to play quarterback. When I first read that Turner was taking snaps, I dismissed it as a complete waste of time by a coordinator who is no where near as clever as Northwestern offensive coordinator Mike McCall. But then I thought, what if it's just a few short yardage and red zone snaps against Florida Atlantic and McNeese State that save a few carries on Abdullah and Armstrong? Nebraska had two running quarterbacks get hurt last year, and if Turner can help save some mileage on Nebraska's other ball carriers and makes other coaches study a little harder, it could be worth it. Even with Quincy Enumwa gone, Nebraska looks to be loaded at the wide receiver position. (Brandon Reilly could average 10+ yards a reception, and he's likely the fourth or fifth option.)
While I'm happy that Tim Beck has pared down the playbook, it will be ineffective if Nebraska is not snapping the ball with 20 seconds or more left on the playclock. As we saw on Saturday, all the quarterbacks still spend a lot of time changing the play at the line of scrimmage, costing Nebraska 7-10 plays a game.
I don't know what to make of Pelini carrying a cat on to the field for the Spring Game. On the one hand, this is college football, and part of college football is recruiting and staying in step with the culture at large. On the other hand, this is still coach who had a sideline/post-game press conference meltdown only four months ago. Genuinely speaking, does Pelini look like a guy who spends a lot of time laughing at himself? I don't think so, but if he wants to parody his parody account go ahead. It's not like the joke hasn't taken on a life of its own.
(Faux) Pelini's cat has become to Nebraska what Phillip Rivers' bolo tie became to San Diego. Both are kind of dorky and seem to be out of place, but after a while, it kind of becomes a thing. Right now, I would buy a T-shirt with Pelini and the cat on it, just because it kind of cool and different.
When Dorial Green-Beckham got booted off of Missouri's football team last Friday, I got to thinking: how much confidence should Nebraska fans have in Bo Pelini to take in a transfer player who has had legal issues? This is not a commentary on Alex Lewis, whose arrest for assault occurred after he decided to transfer to Nebraska. Certainly, Green-Beckham, who had two drug arrests before it was alleged that he abused a woman, will have to be evaluated with great care by any program considering him. Drug arrests are one thing, but physical harming a woman is something else.
The irony is, Nebraska as an institution seems well-suited to handle players from shaky backgrounds (Lawrence Phillips being the one glaring exception), but does not seem to have the greatest head coach for handling such players. Yes, Pelini has tempered his bad behavior over the last two years, but given how pervasive his bad behavior has been at times, should Pelini be trusted with those who can't control their own anger?
That decision can only be made by the discernment of those around Pelini, namely Shawn Eichorst and Jeff Jamrog. Just because Pelini has had incidents doesn't mean he can't lead young men who've had similar problems living up to the same standard. However, Nebraska's athletic department no longer has Tom Osborne watchful eye-over-all, and outside of Ron Brown (who has his detractors in the political arena), there isn't one assistant who you would look at and say, “Oh, he'd keep a troubled players in line.” Such is the case when Pelini keeps choosing assistants with less experience at the BCS level.
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org