Celebratory Spring Game Encouraging Sign
The rain subsided on a dreary 55-degree day just long enough for a couple of hours of football, or as was the case Saturday at venerable Memorial Stadium, a celebration.
You think you were giddy with a sellout crowd of 86,818 fans – a Red-White Spring Game record – witnessing the return of Scott Frost to his home state as the newest Cornhuskers’ head football coach?
Try being Frost himself.
Walking through the Tunnel Walk, hearing the roar of the crowd, smelling the Runzas …
“That brought back more memories than a lot of other things have,” Frost said, “especially just the smell of the stadium with the food in there just took me back a long time. It was a special day for me.”
The last time Frost had experienced the Tunnel Walk was the final game of his senior season in 1997, when the team lockered in South Stadium and came through the southwest corner of the stadium.
Saturday, Frost shook the hand of the nearest Husker player, sported a big grin and led his football team from the northwest corner of the stadium as a version of the Beatles’ “Come Together” – not the traditional “Sirius” – played through the stadium sound system.
The title served appropriate, as Frost has been preaching team togetherness throughout this spring season that culminated with the Red’s 49-9 victory over the White.
“It’s the first step in a journey for us,” Frost told reporters after the intrasquad scrimmage before the biggest crowd in the country to see such an event this spring.
The journey includes more than Frost and his staff and his players, who are in the initial stage of returning Nebraska football to its proud spot among the nation’s elite. The journey also includes those who filled Memorial Stadium on a less-than-desirable weather day, for the fans’ unwavering support will be as instrumental as any third-down play call come fall.
But as for what the fans saw on the field, Saturday was as strong a start as they could’ve possibly expected.
“I think we’ve made some great strides,” freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “Coach Frost has said this is just one step in the right direction, and I’m right there with him. I think we have a ways to go, but I’m excited about that direction we’re going in.”
As he should be.
Martinez ran 14 times for 60 yards and was 10-of-13 passing for 114 yards and a touchdown for the Red team. He shown perhaps the brightest among the quarterbacks, although each of the four performed well.
“To speak on Adrian, the one thing that impresses me is his composure as an 18-year-old that could still be in high school to come out and do some good things,” Frost said. “That was a good job, but I thought all four handled the situation really well.”
Frost said coaches told the quarterbacks to just play and have fun, that Saturday’s scrimmage wouldn’t produce a winner in the starting quarterback race. That will continue well through fall camp.
“I think you got to see all of the guys make good plays, and that’s what’s happened all spring,” Frost said. “It was a little tougher, you had a few more of the guys on the Red team than the White side, so those guys had a little tougher duty.
“They all made good plays today, they all made some mistakes. I think you can see that all four of them are talented kids with the capability of running our offense.”
Tristan Gebbia was 12-of-17 passing for 125 yards and two touchdowns while playing on the same Red team as Martinez.
“It’s been going well,” Gebbia said of the quarterback competition. “Obviously, you can work on tempo and execution. So far, I think we are doing a really good job adapting through it. We aren’t where we want to be, and you never get enough.”
The numbers for the running backs were pretty balanced, although newcomer Greg Bell showed some nice flashes, including a 17-yard burst up the middle through a big hole. He rushed for 54 yards, as did senior Mikale Wilbon for the Red team.
Sophomore Todd Honas of the White team led all receivers in both receptions and yards, with six for 46 yards.
For the White quarterbacks, walkon Andrew Bunch (pictured above) was 8-of-14 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown, and UCF transfer and Nebraska native Noah Vedral was 7-of-13 for 53 yards, although they were going against a Red defense that featured more of what will likely be the starting defense come fall.
And, about that defense?
“They’re symbolic of our entire team; I think that we’ve gotten better,” Frost said. “I thought the tackling was actually decent out there; there were a few missed tackles, but I thought guys were rallying to the ball pretty well and for the most part getting guys on the ground.
“They’re just like any other part of our team – we’re taking the first baby steps here, and nothing that we’re doing right now is where I want it to be and where the coaching staff wants it to be.”
Linebacker Alex Davis had one of the most productive days for the Blackshirts with an interception and three sacks. Cornerback Lamar Jackson contributed with the day’s only other turnover, also an interception. Meanwhile, for the White, linebacker Jacob Weinmaster had 13 tackles, including two for loss.
“I feel like we gained a lot of ground,” Davis said. “You can see the energy of the team, and everybody was bonding. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Technically, the spring isn’t complete. Nebraska still has a practice to its disposal, and Frost said that will happen, in some shape or form, on Monday, and that after that, he’ll hold individual player meetings.
“First spring, I think the guys have come a long way already, and I told them that they can’t see this as the end of the process,” Frost said. “They just have to see this as they’re familiar with what we’re asking them to do now for the most part, and we’ve got to take a little time off and really have a resurgence and a lot of effort and summer conditioning to make sure we’re getting better at everything we’re doing.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.