Blackshirts, special teams shine in first victory

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Talk about a long off-season.
The last time Husker Nation gathered together as one for a regular season football game was exactly 287 days ago as of Saturday, but it might as well have been an eternity.
It sure felt like it.
And with a projected wet weather forecast for Saturday’s season opener against South Alabama in Lincoln, it was surprising when, 75 minutes prior to kickoff, Husker sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez and his backups took the field for warm ups, the sun suddenly poking through the clouds, shining on Tom Osborne field for 20 or so seconds.
While it probably wasn’t an omen considering the rough start to the season Adrian had (13 for 22 through the air with one pick and two sacks), it was hopefully another example of the Husker football program coming out of their dark tunnel they’ve seemingly been trapped in for years.
A 35-21 win over South Alabama at least got 2019 off to a good start, a much smoother start to the season than a year ago against Akron.
But chapter two is now here, and while the Huskers have some obvious work to do, progress is being made.
Former Aurora Husky Austin Allen, a co-No. 1 now on the depth chart with junior Jack Stoll at tight end, saw plenty of snaps and grabbed his third career catch in the second quarter, an eight-yard reception when he got some extra yardage with a nice move to his right. Austin jumped high to grab the ball with his back to the defense.
“It’s supposed to look like a boot to the right and I’m supposed to sneak out and come back to the left and hopefully the middle linebacker doesn’t catch me as I cross their face,” the sophomore told me following the game.
“It worked out pretty well. It felt like the ball was in the air for 20 seconds. I was expecting a defender to be right there, but I turned and there was a little green grass and I made a little bit of a play.”
That catch helped keep a drive alive that eventually resulted in a second Dedrick Mills one-yard touchdown run, giving the Huskers a 14-7 lead with 9:15 remaining before halftime.
Austin provided blocks on both scores, lining up on the right side of Nebraska’s offensive line, then crossing over both times to his left for key blocks in the middle.
”I’m supposed to cross the line of scrimmage and the first guy I see, kick them out and hopefully open up a lane for Dedrick,” he told me. “That’s just masking the same play. We didn’t execute offensively the way we should have, but the defense came to play today and that’s all we can ask for.”
The Huskers indeed got a key 38-yard pick six from seldom used safety Eric Lee, Jr., who was subbing for an injured Deontai Williams. That score and JD Spielman’s electrifying 76-yard punt return less than two minutes later gave the Huskers a 28-7 lead shortly into the second half, a lead that stood up despite Nebraska’s offensive struggles.
After South Alabama closed to within seven points (28-21), Cam Taylor came free on a corner blitz, sacking quarterback Cephus Johnson near the north goal line as Alex Davis recorded the ball for six points.
Still, Husker coach Scott Frost’s look of concern leaving Tom Osborne field and his opening comments at his post-game press conference gave Husker Nation notice that patience will indeed be needed to get this program back to national prominence.
“That’s as anemic of an offensive effort that I’ve been a part of for a long time,” he said. “That’s not the offense I’ve seen in fall camp.”
Austin had his own theory on why things just didn’t click.
“I think it all started on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Those are our big work days. We didn’t necessarily come out to work those days. We were pretty sloppy. Coach always says you win the game on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and Tuesday and Wednesday it was getting close to being a loss. I’d say we played it like a losing team but the defense and special teams came to play. 
“And I’d say a big part was first-game jitters,” he added.
Austin also saw plenty of snaps on both punt teams, lining up to rush the punter and then back as a blocker for punter Isaac Armstrong.
“I’m seeing a lot more reps on special team as well as on offense,” he noted. “I like that. That’s what I’m used to. I played both sides of the ball in high school, so I’m getting back to my roots, so to say. They like my length, just put me out in space, making sure I’ve got contain. On field goals I’ve got contain (blocking). And on (our) punts, size-wise being a shield, being ready to take a hit.”
South Alabama, just 3-9 a year ago, did give the Husker offense a look they didn’t anticipate, but it was surprising how Nebraska’s offensive line could really never get a good push to open up some holes.
“Their defense, they came out with some stuff we didn’t expect,” Austin mentioned. “We were expecting two high safeties and they were one high safety.”
In all, the Huskers picked up just 15 first downs on the day and only 98 rushing yards, losing the time of possession by nine minutes.
But 1-0 sure beats 0-6 any day of the week, especially with a team that features a total of 78 freshmen on its roster.
Up next is a trip to Colorado that suddenly looks a little scary, but hey, at least it’s just three days away.
DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at advertising@hamilton.net
 

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