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Nebraska Cornhuskers Spring Preview 2015: Fresh start could be just what Huskers need

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For the first time in eight years the Nebraska Cornhuskers will enter spring football without Bo Pelini. That means everything is fresh and new and exciting after the hire of Mike Riley as the new head coach this offseason.

It’s safe to say he wasn’t the first or second or even third choice of those in the media or the fanbase, but athletic director Shawn Eichorst apparently had him at the top of his wish list, as Riley was hired quickly following Pelini’s ouster.

Previous Previews: Illinois | Michigan | Northwestern | Maryland | Minnesota

That means the 2015 spring will be more about the going on’s on the field than what is happening around the spring game. We’re not likely to see a cat come out in the hands of the head coach or anything else crazy. However, this could also be the biggest spring game for action on the field in nearly a decade.

 

Spring Football Start Date: March 7

Spring Football Game Date: April 11

Key Returning Players: Tommy Armstrong, QB; Demornay Pierson-El, WR; Jordan Westerkamp, WR; Vincent Valentine, DT; Nathan Gerry, S

Key Losses: Randy Gregory, DE; Kenny Bell, WR; Ameer Abdullah, RB; David Santos, LB

 

Nebraska’s Spring To-Do List:

– Figuring out the QB situation: Normally having a starter returning for his junior season wouldn’t be a bad thing. However, given Mike Riley’s history with quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong may not be exactly what the Huskers are looking for going forward.

That said, Riley isn’t opposed to working with a non-traditional pro-style quarterback or two and Armstrong’s game experience has him at the top of the depth chart heading in to spring. Armstrong’s reign at the top may not be long if he continues to make the mistakes he did last season and has early on in his career.

Riley hired Danny Langsdorf as the offensive coordinator, and between the two they are considered some of the best quarterback coaches in college football. So, perhaps Armstrong benefits in a big way from their tutelage.

However, there is the looming presence of former Elite 11 quarterback Johnny Stanton to think about too. He appeared to have all the tools to be a star at the college level, but he hasn’t seen the field in a meaningful way. With a new coaching staff he may have the exact skill set that will make this offense work.

No doubt about it, the quarterback position is No. 1 on the curiosity list.

– Can Secondary Be Strength of Team Once Again: The Huskers made a huge move by signing Brian Stewart as the defensive backs coach earlier this week. He’s coming off coaching one of the best secondaries in the Big Ten last season and his experience at the NFL and college level is a massive upgrade to Riley’s coaching staff.

It just so happens there is also a lot of talent to work with, starting with All-Big Ten safety Nathan Gerry and Daniel Davie at cornerback. Still, there is the other half of the group to replace and Stewart’s coaching ability could pay off in a big way.

Over the course of spring there will be plenty of competition to be had, not only for the starting spots but throughout the depth chart.

– Who Will Lead the Running Back Stable: Normally losing a player like Ameer Abdullah would hurt a lot. In fact, not many programs could lose the second-best rusher in school history and not have some worry. Such is the case with Nebraska though, as they have built up a pretty good stable of backs behind Abdullah.

Some, like Imani Cross and Terrell Newby have proven themselves and then there are intriguing options like redshirt freshman Mikale Wilbon and Adam Taylor.

Lat season Cross put up 397 yards on 75 carries (5.1 yards per carry), while Newby impressed with 302 yards on 67 carries as well. Still, the duo didn’t exactly set the world on fire in the big chance last season when Abdullah went down with an injury in the Purdue game.

Cross had just 66 yards on 20 carries and Newby added just 42 yards on nine carries. Not exactly numbers that will give people confidence they can carry this team in the run game going forward.

Spring will be a big opportunity for all four backs to showcase their ability to be the one to carry this team in 2015 and beyond.

– Put on a Good Show for the Fans: It’s spring football and the score won’t ever be remembered, but spring football at Nebraska is unlike any other in the Big Ten. The school normally sells out the stadium and with a new coaching staff in town this could be a huge opportunity to get the fans all pulling in the same direction.

After all, not everyone was exactly on board with the firing of Bo Pelini and Rilely’s hire was seen as a pretty outside-the-box kind of hire. So, if this team can show that things are going well and key players are performing at a high level after 14 practices this spring it would be a huge help towards healing any wounds that still exist.

The coaching staff’s biggest job will be getting the players in to the system, but the secondary goal has to be getting everyone in Husker Nation pulling in the same direction heading in to the fall.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Huskers Football

Huskers defense drives win over MSU

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All the talk about Nebraska has been how Scott Frost would transform the Huskers offense. On Saturday, the defense made everyone stand up and take notice in a 9-6 win over Michigan State. 

Nebraska managed to kick three field goals in the final quarter to win a game that didn’t see either side score a single touchdown. 

“Good teams figure out how to win any kind of game, and that’s a different kind of game that I have been apart of as a coach, winning a game with no touchdowns,” said Nebraska head coach Scott Frost after the game.

“I am so happy for the seniors, so happy for the Blackshirts. Some of these games we’ve won, we’ve been winning on offense, and it was great to see the defense step up today.”

With the Huskers usually high-powered offense bottled up by Michigan State’s quality defense and really bad weather the defensive performance was badly needed.

It was also badly needed after last week’s performance in a shootout win over Illinois

Nebraska’s defense was hit for 35 points and needed to put up 54 points on offense to win. The Huskers defense came in to the game this week having never given up fewer than 34 points to any team in the Big Ten so far this season. 

The Huskers defense also stood 12th in the conference, giving up an average of 33.8 points per game through 10 games. 

Certainly this group was challenged following that performance against Illinois. 

“Every week I’ve been coaching them there’s a little more fight. Today’s the most I’ve seen,” said Frost. “That’s a hard game to win. Even harder to lose. Our guys had to keep grinding, and the defense had to keep coming up with stops.”

Nebraska’s defense didn’t disappoint, holding MSU running back Craig Haward under 90 yards and quarterback Rocky Lombardi to just 145 yards on 15 of 41 passing. 

No doubt the fact that MSU came in struggling on offense helped, but this was a huge step forward for the Huskers defense after its struggles earlier this season. 

After starting the season 0-6, the Huskers have ripped off wins in 4 of the last 5 games. 

In a season of transition, the fact that Nebraska’s defense was able to hold anyone without a touchdown is a massive step in the right direction. That fact wasn’t lost on the coaches or players following the crazy win. 

For Chinander and Frost, it’s also a sign that this team is still listening and learning as what seems like a lost season to the outside world is far from it internally. 

“I told the guys in the locker room if from a coaching standpoint, or pretty much on everything, I guess, the team could’ve started the season where it is right now, that would’ve been a funny act,” Frost said. “Some of the growing things we had to go through were necessary, and I’m crushed for the seniors we couldn’t get that done quicker.

“This team has been through so much and to be where it is right now and have the second half of the season it’s been having, it makes it really special. And I think the seniors will probably look back on this and think it was a pretty special season after all.”

Nebraska will have an interesting challenge ahead of it next week, as they will face the rival Iowa Hawkeyes after they just went off for a 63-0 victory over the Illinois team that just put up 54 points on Nebraska. 

A win in the Heroes Game would be a great way to cap off what many believed was a lost season early on. Doing so with the Huskers defense getting some of its luster back would just be icing on the cake. 

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. unsurprisingly transferring from Huskers

Following a summer pot citation and his dad pulling him from school, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. announces his transfer.

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Did you know that Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was a member of the Nebraska Cornhuskers program? Chances are, if you blinked you missed his time on campus.

That’s what happens when you get busted for pot possession and your dad brings you home to teach you a lesson or two.

The elder Johnson made sure to make a statement when pulling his kid out of school just days in to his time there. He made it clear that there were higher (no pun intended) expectations of his son.

“One thing you will not do as my son is you will not embarrass Nebraska, you will not embarrass Mike Riley and you will not embarrass this family,” Johnson Sr. told the Omaha World-Herald. “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the former 4-star recruit with the famous name isn’t going to continue his career at Nebraska.

On Friday, the younger Johnson announced his decision to not return to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The combination of his citation for marijuana possession and the coaching change likely sealed the deal for this move.

Johnson Jr. enrolled early, coming to Lincoln in January, but suffered an illness that he couldn’t shake for parts of spring practice. He appeared in the spring game, but caught just one pass for 7 yards.

Nebraska could use the depth at wide receiver, but with a new regime in place and his father having no relationship with the new staff this move is not surprising.

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Frost turning to Florida to bring speed to Huskers program

Frost is leaning on his Florida ties in hoping to shape his roster in his image quicker than expected.

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Scott Frost has technically only been on the job for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for less than a week, but he clearly has had a gameplan in place for a while now.

That much is evident not only by how quickly he’s gotten a staff together, but by the details on the recruiting trail.

Normally it takes time to evaluate what is on a roster in front of you and figure out what is needed. That process didn’t take long (or likely took place last week as he waited to take the job formally), because Frost has attacked the recruiting trail hard in his first week on the job.

So, what is his evaluation of the Huskers program? It is in need of speed, speed and more speed.

Frost has decided that in order to get his team up to speed he needs to do so buy finding that speed right in his old back yard.

It’s a move that makes sense, as Frost has built good relationships in Florida and that is where some of the best high school talent in the country exists today.

Nebraska’s 247Sports site, Huskers Illustrated, had a really good talk on the inner workings of what Frost has done already on the recruiting trail on this week’s Notorious B1G Podcast (because who doesn’t love an all-Big Ten recruiting podcast?)

Mike Riley and Co. spent less time on Florida and more time on the West Coast, which should’ve been expected given Riley’s ties in that direction. But, the crop of pure athletes out West is nothing compared to the depth of speed and athleticism that exists in Florida.

Ironically, Frost’s first offer came from out West as the No. 8-ranked dual-threat quarterback, Adrian Martinez, was offered within hours of Frost getting the job.

That move and all the ones made since his hire show Frost has come in with a clear knowledge of his system, who fits it on the recruiting trail and who fits it currently on the roster. Having that kind of confidence and work-rate are a welcome sight in Lincoln.

But, Frost isn’t just hitting the ground running on the recruiting trail either.

He’s also been taking time to speak to the national media and spread the gospel of what he wants to build at Nebraska. Frost spoke on the Jim Rome Show on Thursday and didn’t buy the notion that recruiting to Lincoln, Neb. is a difficult task.

“There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get kids to Lincoln, Nebraska,” Frost said, via Land of 10. “Kids leave places right now and go everywhere around the country. There’s no reason kids won’t go to Lincoln if they’re going to Columbus, Ann Arbor, and Eugene, Oregon.

“And I think we’re going to create an environment, a football environment in Lincoln that people are going to want to be a part of.”

Success in turning a program around often hinges on the first recruiting class to come in. That’s not to say this class should be put at the feet of Frost and his staff entirely, but if they can put a stamp on an already nice class it could be the one that breaks a mediocre mold for the Huskers program.

No matter what, Frost and his staff aren’t afraid to be aggressive and go after the type of player they need. That alone has to be a refreshing sign of change for the Husker faithful.

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Huskers Football

Huskers hope Scott Frost hire brings back glory days

Native son returns home to lead program he once was the star quarterback of. Can the glory days return with the Huskers dipping in to their past?

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What had become the worst-kept secret in college football’s coaching carousel became official on Saturday afternoon. Just hours after leading his UCF Knights to a crazy 62-55 double overtime win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game, Frost bolted for a gig back home.

UCF’s 247sports site announced the news, noting that Forst will not coach the team in the upcoming bowl game. However, after the AAC championship game, UCF’s AD noted that Frost and the entire coaching staff would coach through the Peach Bowl.

Nebraska athletics director Bill Moos named Frost the new Huskers head coach, ending a search many thought would start and end with Frost first.

“It is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to return to Nebraska and to lead the Husker football program,” Frost said in a statement released by the school. “I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second to none. I am truly humbled to be hereee. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.

“I am appreciative of the confidence Bill Moos and our University leadership have in me to lead this program. I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career. Specifically, I would like to thank Coach Osborne who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field. Go Big Red!”

In bringing a native son and former Huskers quarterback in to the fold to lead the program, Nebraska is clearly hoping the magic of the mid 1990’s can rub off on the program once again.

Frost was integral in the Huskers success in the 90’s, where he was a star quarterback for two years after transferring home from Stanford. He led the program to a 24-2 record as the starter and became just the 10th player in major college football history to pass for 1,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.

He had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but was moved from quarterback to safety and just couldn’t find his way in the league.

While thoughts of Frost leading the Huskers offense are likely to bring smiles back to the Husker faithful, the reality of today’s program won’t.

It’s been a rough go since the calendar turned over to the year 2000, as the Huskers haven’t won a single conference championship since 1999.

Frost faces a big challenge, as the Huskers vaunted defense has fallen on hard times and the program just got done with a 4-8 season under Mike Riley. Luckily for the Husker faithful, Frost isn’t going to be caught off-guard by the challenges of a turnaround.

He took over a UCF program that went winless the year before he came to campus and had them 6-7 and going bowling in his first season. This year his team went undefeated in the regular season, joining the Wisconsin Badgers as the only two undefeated teams in the country after the regular season finished up.

Frost also led the Knights to the AAC championship despite a ton of off-field distraction surrounding his job status and rumors about Florida, Nebraska and Oregon interest in his services.

Now the pressure will be on to get the Huskers back to championship football, and soon.

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