When last we saw the Nebraska Cornhuskers, they were capping a forgettable season. But alas, it’s a new year. The calendar reads “March 2005.” Robin sightings abound, weeds are beginning to grow in my backyard, and Gary Barnett is issuing denials…yes, it must be spring.
The question is, does better football await?
What follows is a Scarlet Commentary pre-spring assessment of the 2005 Huskers.
The quarterback position is going to look different; it’s just a matter of how soon.
If Joe Dailey isn’t supplanted as the starting QB by fall, I’ll be amazed. Someone—either Zac Taylor, Harrison Beck, or Jordan Adams—will move ahead of Dailey. Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Taylor beats out Dailey by the end of spring practice.
Noteworthy about Zac Taylor is that NU coaches also brought in two other players from his same junior college, Frantz Hardy (WR) and Justin Tomerlin (likely a TE). The coaching staff seems to be tinkering with things in order to pave the way for Taylor.
The O-line again has the chance to be solid, and we’re finally going to get to see Lydon Murtha’s 6’ 7” 315-pound frame crashing into defenders.
Our running back corps headed by Corey Ross will be fine, with or without Marlon Lucky and Leon Jackson. If these new recruits end up academically ineligible, look for the Tierre Green spring experiment on defense to come to an early end.
Receivers Terrence Nunn, Isaiah Fluellen, Mark LeFlore, Grant Mulkey, will be bolstered by the aforementioned Hardy and probably a couple more newcomers to be determined. This year’s recruiting class was heavy on receivers—Callahan apparently feels like he can never have too many. I think all the guys we have already are good, some even teeter on being game-breakers, but they need someone to get them the ball more efficiently. Regrettably, we may not be seeing much of Matt Herian this spring. The tight end spot should be interesting.
The secondary warrants concern. Last year, Cosgrove and Elmassian couldn’t seem to figure out what they were doing here and why—meanwhile....oops we just gave up another TD pass. Can two new cornerbacks play better in 2005 than two experienced ones did in 2004? The coaches have seemed high on Cortney Grixby from the very beginning. His play last year left a lot to be desired. Titus Brothers looked good at times. Tierre Green was All-Metro as a defensive back in high school, so maybe he can make a mark. Based on his 5-star recruiting rating and Callahan’s effusive praise, Zackary Bowman would seem like a lock for one of the starting corner positions. But if he ends up starting, it will go against the trend: JUCO cornerbacks who come to NU rarely end up Blackshirts (recent examples: Donald DeFrand, Clifford Brye, Brandon Harrison). In fact, you have to go back to the late 80s (Bruce Pickens and Tim Jackson—though the latter became a safety) to find a period where JUCO DBs cracked the first team.
Recruiting for safeties has been sparse lately, so it’s anyone’s guess who will join Daniel Bullocks as the other safety. Mike Stuntz made All-State as a defensive back in high school, so maybe he can make a dent here. I’m not sure if Andrew Shanle is going to scare many opponents, but he’s not bad.
It appears one of the new starting LB’s will be Steve Octavien, and he’s expected to be solid. He’s one of the two JUCO linebackers already enrolled at NU that I think will make an impact. Dontrell Moore will be in the mix, too, if not a starter. A rotation on the outside of Octavien, Moore, Stewart Bradley, and Bo Ruud should make us decent here. Lance Brandenburgh, who was a highly recruited 2004 signee, should be intriguing in the middle. If he is good enough to hold off Phillip Dilliard—who doesn’t arrive until the fall—we might not be bad here.
Callahan’s statements about last year’s defense show he understands our pass rush was generally weak. Enter Ola Dagunduro and Barry Cryer along the D-line, both JUCO transfers who will participate this spring. Having Jared Helming back on defense should help, too. Le Kevin Smith and Titus Adams are still around, as are Adam Carriker, Jay Moore, and Wali Muhammad. All of these guys need to make the transition from “pretty good” to sacking opposing QBs at key moments in close games.
Honestly I don’t expect anything noteworthy here this spring. In the fall, hopefully Jordan Congdon can make an impact in the kicking game and Robert Rands will make a (sorely needed) difference in the return game.
* Recruiting Accomplishments
Other than Nebraska, of the teams that generally finished in the top 10 in the various recruiting rankings this year…
USC (13-0), Oklahoma (12-1), Georgia (10-2), Iowa (10-2), Tennessee (10-3), Michigan (9-3), Miami (9-3)
Ohio St (8-4), Texas A&M (7-5), Florida (7-5).
All were bowl teams last year and finished with a better record than NU.
* Noteworthy Turnarounds
Two seasons ago Utah was 5-6.
They finished 2004 11-1.
Auburn was a ho-hum 8-5 in 2003.
A year later they went undefeated.
In 2001, USC was 6-6 (new coach’s first season).
The next year they were 11-2, and then went on to win back-to-back championships.
Both Oklahoma and Ohio St. went from 7-5 records in their new coach’s first seasons to national championships the next.
* Notable Incoming Players
Difference-makers according to the Omaha World-Herald:
Phillip Dillard (LB), Harrison Beck (QB), Marlon Lucky (RB), Leon Jackson (RB), Zackary Bowman (CB).
* Closing Thought
March 23 start of spring practice is only a few days away. Be encouraged.
The voice of Scarlet Commentary is Jeffrey A. Leever, a Nebraska native also stuck behind enemy lines in Jefferson County, Colo. He is a 1994 graduate of the University of Nebraska (Kearney) and a freelance writer and author. Some of Jeff’s writings of the nonfootball kind can be found online at Barnes & Noble (1, 2), Amazon.com (1, 2), and MenofIntegrity.net (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Contact Jeff at email@example.com.