Bill Moos surveyed the scene at Memorial Stadium from the west sideline during the first half Saturday.
During a day that sparkled as brightly as Mason Ramsey’s big belt buckle as the youngster sang the national anthem, the Nebraska athletic director had to like what he saw all around him. Or more to the point, he had to like how it felt.
It’s easy for Nebraska football fans to feel good about Scott Frost’s program. It’s easy for them to believe. Yes, fans of all kinds in this crazy world can convince themselves their favorite team is on the right path. But for Husker football fans — by the way, there were 85,946 of them on hand for the Red-White Spring Game — it doesn’t have to be a chore to convince themselves. It doesn’t have to feel contrived anymore.
The vast majority trust Frost. The fans know beyond a shadow of a doubt he wants greatness back in the program as badly as they want it. Does anybody doubt that?
The vibe in the big stadium on this day was pleasant, excited, hopeful and even realistic. Nobody’s saying Nebraska’s ready to run roughshod in the Big Ten. But folks seem to like the program’s trajectory. You feel the energy with back-to-back sellouts of the spring game. And, yes, vibe can be important. Recruits feel vibe. Current players can feel it, too. Hell, I’m in a good enough mood watching this stuff that I’m talking like a millennial. There’s an upset.
If you’re a Nebraska fan, it must be fun right now. It must feel exciting, especially when Fred Hoiberg is out on the field throwing the bones, as was the case midway through the first quarter. You had Doc Sadler roaming around in a red long-sleeved T-shirt and so many former Husker football players on the sideline that I lost count.
This really did feel like a celebration on Stadium Drive.
That’s what a spring game should feel like.
“I’ve seen some guys that I haven’t seen in two decades,” said Frost, the second-year NU head coach, who guided the Huskers to the 1997 national championship as a rugged run-first quarterback. “Michael Booker just grabbed me on the way off the field, and obviously he was a big part of a lot of really good teams around here. I haven’t seen him in years. I saw Erick Strickland yesterday. I haven’t seen him in years.”
Frost appreciates the brotherhood part of all this.
“I love having those guys back,” he said. “One, I care about them, and they care about me. I also like to see those guys back and see what it means to be a Husker football player and see how it goes with you your whole life and see how the fans still know who you are. There really is no place like Nebraska as far as that goes. If you’re a great player here, people are going to remember you the rest of your life, and those guys are still pulling for those guys playing today.
“It’s awesome to kind of continue that fraternity and have the guys come back and teach this group what it’s supposed to look like.”
You’ve always seen former players on the sideline for spring games. But tell me we’re not seeing more nowadays. The family feel is more pronounced. But Frost has work to do on the football part.
It’d be helpful if Nebraska had a Michael Booker playing cornerback. He was the 11th pick overall in the 1997 NFL Draft. If the Huskers have a first-round pick on their entire defense, he hasn’t presented himself in that manner.
If Nebraska has a return man of DeJuan Groce’s prowess, we haven’t seen it. Groce was among the former Huskers on hand. Back in 2002, when he finished fourth nationally with 17.0 yards per return on 43 attempts, you made sure you were watching when an opponent punted. Frost needs more of those type of guys.
Nebraska’s recruiting is going well. Give Frost time. He may already have a Groce-level guy in the making in freshman Wan’Dale Robinson, who was among a group of talented offensive players who are injured and sat out the Red Team’s 24-13 victory against a White Team made up of mostly lower-unit players.
The key stat of the day: zero significant injuries to report. You can bet Frost felt a level of anxiety as he watched Adrian Martinez, whom the coach described as “clearly a top player in the entire country.” Martinez played a little over a quarter and completed 5 of 9 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, with a near-interception.
The key was he bounced off the field afterward and now can get ready for summer conditioning and the arrival of more talent that can help the offense immediately — most notably Dedrick Mills.
This offense needs some bulk in the backfield, and the center position is a concern. The offensive line’s overall athleticism is so-so.
The punters had a case of the yips. That’ll need attention.
The defense needs some more firepower, especially at the linebacker spots. All of them. But it was a good spring for Erik Chinander’s group. Yeah, at the end of this gorgeous day on Stadium Drive, there’s reason to believe.
“I think the offense did better today than sometimes during spring,” Frost said. “It was a good performance by the defense, but it’s not the best I’ve seen this spring. There’s been times where we couldn’t move the ball at all this spring, which is a good sign for our defense.”
Did I mention there were no major injuries? Yeah, it was an overall good day for Nebraska, trending toward wonderful.