New-look Huskers show off in spring game
Saturday’s 15th Husker spring football “practice session” was so much more than just that.
It was a chance for 78,000 plus to get their annual football fix coming off a disappointing bowl loss to Tennessee. It was an opportunity to see three new Nebraska quarterbacks with very strong and yes, accurate arms. And it was a chance for Aurora’s Todd Honas to once again step out onto the playing field at his “Z” receiving position, the outside receiver as the offense lines up.
In short, it was a chamber of commerce-type day that featured perhaps the most top notch recruiting targets in program history.
Just before the half, Todd had an opportunity to grab a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tristan Gebbia in the north end zone, but a questionable no-call on sophomore cornerback Eric Lee resulted in an incompletion.
“I had E-Lee on me and the play is called a post corner,” Todd told me immediately following the game, just after he had greeted his family and signed a few autographs for some youngsters. “I got him on the post and came back and saw the ball. I was going to grab it and the next thing I know, I was on the ground. That was probably my best chance at a touchdown, but it’s all right.”
Todd had two other passes come his way during the contest, but both fell incomplete. Both appeared to be timing issues, and both would have been tough catches.
The game also marked Todd’s first experience with the Tunnel Walk, and he said it certainly didn’t disappoint.
“There’s nothing like it, honestly. I’ve been through it a thousand times, day by day, but the game day experience, you come out through the smoke, and you get like super powers. It was an unbelievable experience.”
At his post-game press conference, head coach Mike Riley said several players need to step up for the Huskers since they lost so many senior leaders. He also said that’s especially true of the wide receiver group, a room that lost Brandon Reilly, Cethan Carter and also Jordan Westercamp to graduation.
Todd admitted it was his first time on the field since the Shrine Bowl, but he thinks he could have played a lot better.
“There’s a lot of things I need to work on,” he said. “I’m going to talk to Coach Williams and Coach Langs (Langsdorf) and just see what I can do to get better. I’m going to ask Tristan and all the quarterbacks what I can do to get better every day. I want to get on the field to get some playing time sooner rather than later, so I’m just going to keep working.”
As for the game itself, the Reds (made up of more first teamers) went on to an easy 55-7 win with quarterbacks Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien getting most of the attention. And they certainly didn’t disappoint, throwing for a combined 324 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, their combined completion percentage was 66 percent, something Husker fans have been looking for since Joe Ganz.
And defensively, there was no 3-4 defense, but Husker defenders looked bigger up front.
“Vanilla” is how Riley described it, not wanting to show anything on tape to 2017 opponents.
Gebbia, who should be attending his high school prom this week out in California, got the most reps for the White team and showed flashes of brilliance. He’s the quarterback that Todd has been practicing with the most. Gebbia ended the game throwing 28 of 45 for 268 yards on the day along with one rushing touchdown.
“Tristan is the guy I roll with the most and he’s a football junkie,” Todd told me. “He’s always in the film room. I love him.”
Todd also said he’s still learning the playbook, and that the game at this level is so much faster than high school football. He said the playbook is very detailed, but that he’s anxious to get more comfortable with it, noting this spring game experience will definitely help.
“The biggest thing is the game is faster, and it’s so much more physical. I’ve been here so long now that I couldn’t even tell you what Class B football is like.”
Aurora’s Austin Allen was also on the sideline prior to kickoff, taking in the sights as well as visiting with fellow 2017 signees and potential 2018 recruiting targets. Husker quarterbacks threw to the tight ends quite a few times during the game, some unsuccessfully, and from my vantage point, none of them are in the athletic mode of a Cethan Carter. So while a redshirt season is always a good possibility, in my eyes, there’s also an opportunity for Oz to play as a true freshman, as a playmaker, if he can adjust to the physicality of the college game.
Right after the spring game ended, Coach Williams gathered his receiving corp together and gave them a five minute speech, since it’s the last time they can officially gather as a group until fall ball.
Todd told me it turned out to be a pep talk.
“He’s always saying something good, something motivational. At the end there he was telling us the great ones he’s coached were a little weird, so he said when we’re out here practicing on our own this summer, to do that extra thing because you’ve got to be a little weird in what you’re doing.
“I’ve got three seniors in front of me so next year I’ll be the only one at the Z position, even though they will probably get some more guys in here for next spring. As for me, I’ve got to keep learning the details of the plays, and I’m trying to learn all the (receiver) positions, so they can play me anywhere.”
DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at email@example.com.