Apr 17

Nebraska Red-White Game

Posted By:Josh Morse - Kearney, NE  Tags:

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Photo: USPresswire.com

The Nebraska Red-White Game may result in more questions than answers. Saturday's Spring game isn't shaping up to be the best indicator of what kind of team Nebraska will field next fall.  It's likely to prompt questions rather than provide answers, since several key playmakers will stand on the sidelines, the play-calling will be basic and coaches will mix and match first-teamers to create a competitive product.  But coach Bo Pelini says Saturday's 1 p.m. game will be productive and maybe even a little entertaining for the thousands of football-starved fans expected to cram into Memorial Stadium.  No secrets will be revealed, but it will serve as the second year staff's final attempt to evaluate its team without damaging its plans for the fall.  "We're going to let guys go out there and compete," coach Bo Pelini said Wednesday.  "Go out there and play football, run and tackle and see who steps up."  A few likely headliners won't get a chance, though.  I-back Roy Helu's tweaked hamstring will keep him out of action Saturday, meaning the first Memorial Stadium appearance of the stronger and quicker Helu will have to wait until the fall.  The team's leading rusher would probably play if it were a regular season game, Pelini said.  Linebacker Blake Lawrence, a starter for much of the spring, is likely out with a concussion.  The team's second leading returning receiver, Niles Paul, has been suspended since Monday after a weekend arrest.  Khiry Cooper, the athletic redshirt receiver, is playing baseball. 
Quarterback Kody Spano, a legitimate contender to back up Zac Lee next fall, will not play and could be sidelined into next season because of a knee injury he suffered Monday.  Plus, two others who might have challenged Lee won't be playing Saturday either, incoming freshman Taylor Martinez hasn't arrived on Nebraska's campus yet, and transfer Patrick Witt is finishing up coursework and getting ready to leave.  The quarterbacks who do play Saturday will wear green no-contact jerseys, not exactly providing a true indication of how the inexperienced group might react to game-like scenarios.
 
In the short view: Nebraska’s quarterback corps has been reduced to Zac Lee or bust. Not only does Lee need to play well Saturday, NU coaches need to put him in a position to play well, much like Bill Callahan did with Zac Taylor in 2005, when Taylor completed 20 of 27 passes for more than 300 yards.

Whether it immediately carries over to fall or not isn’t as important as the confidence Lee gains from Saturday, and the leadership he assumes over the course of the summer because of it.

Is Saturday just another practice? No. At some schools – even some Big 12 programs – it is. Not at NU. Not with the pomp, circumstance and advertising Nebraska puts into it. Pelini tried very hard to make it as boring as possible last year, but know this The biggest eye-opener last spring was Roy Helu. Guess who became Nebraska’s No. 1 running back next fall?
Saturday is more like a dress rehearsal, which, any actor will tell you, is close enough to the real thing. Hit your marks and lines.
It’s a modified game in front of 80,000 Husker fans in Memorial Stadium. For one thing, NU hasn’t worked out much in the old battleship this spring; Pelini’s worked the team out on the grass fields. The stadium track will be faster, the sight lines different. Lee’s Husker teammates will be keyed up, and one of his primary targets, Niles Paul, won’t be out there to snag a few passes.

Lee will have to battle fatigue some, too. Watson and Pelini aren’t going to expose Cody Green, still recovering from a hip tissue injury, to the full brunt of the defense, and Latravis Washington only knows so much about the offense. While NU’s running backs – minus Roy Helu – should get a workout, Lee will get more snaps than he would have if Kody Spano were available.

Throw in some potentially rainy conditions – which some quarterbacks prefer – and Lee will face a variety of tests. A young, aggressive, hungry defense, full of redshirt freshmen looking to make an impact, likely awaits him. So does a crowd wondering what Lee can produce.

First impressions count. The game won’t, but the perception of Lee’s play will. Look for Watson to have a set of bread-and-butter stuff Lee does really well – we expect rollouts and a healthy dose of zone read – mixed in with a few crowd-pleasing “house calls.” Lee’s got a big arm; hopefully Watson and NU’s receivers allow him to show it off.

If Lee dazzles – and he might, because he’s a special athlete – count on Watson and Pelini playing it down. As they should. But it’s better for them, Lee and Nebraska’s team if the only realistic option at quarterback plays like Taylor did in spring 2005. The summer “bounce” would be costly to lose.
 
*Marve, Family to be in Lincoln on Saturday*
 
With the recent news that redshirt freshman Kody Spano tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Monday, the quarterback depth at Nebraska is in serious question heading into the 2009 season.
Nebraska already lost Patrick Witt before the start of spring practice and more than likely Spano won't be a factor this fall based on the fact ACL surgery requires around six months of rehabilitation. 
In the stands at Saturday's Red-White game will be two other potential quarterbacks. Incoming freshman Taylor Martinez from Corona, Calif., will start his Huskers career as a quarterback. The 6-foot, 176-pound Martinez led Corona Centennial to the California state championship and took home nearly every major individual honor in the process.
 
Joining Martinez at the Red-White game will be another potential quarterback that could be on campus this fall. Former Miami starting quarterback Robert Marve will be in Lincoln for an official visit this weekend after deciding to leave Coral Gables at the end of the 2008 season. Marve would have two years of eligibility left after he sits out the 2009 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

The Tampa, Fla., native has already taken official visits to South Florida and Purdue, and he will also visit Arizona State and Texas Tech before making an official decision sometime next month.

Marve will be accompanied on his visit to Lincoln this weekend by his father, Eugene Marve, who played 11 seasons in the NFL at linebacker for Buffalo, San Diego and Tampa Bay.
The elder Marve said both he and his son are anxious to get to Lincoln to take in the atmosphere at Saturday's Red-White game.

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