Opener will be more electrifying this week

September 6, 2018

The anticipation. The nerves. The excitement. The shared belief. The raw emotion. All of it was at an all-time high Saturday evening.

I would even bet that most Husker fans were getting as misty-eyed as Scott Frost during his first Tunnel Walk as head coach. If you weren’t amped like never before after that, well, maybe you’re an Iowa fan.

But, with a flash of lightning, it was all over. Mother Nature had staked her claim that night. As soon as the game “ended,” fans and media were scrambling to find out what comes next.

Is this a delay? Is the game canceled or rescheduled? After conflicting reports, and even a supposed new game time on Sunday that scrolled across the Fox Sports channel, the game was canceled for good. Nebraska officials and Fox representatives were all on board to play the game at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. But Akron, noting that reasonable accommodations could not be found in time, piled in the team plane and headed home.

Akron’s athletic director did, however, leave open the possibility of scheduling the game later in the season — if either team was in need of bowl eligibility. Interesting idea. I foresee a lot of “ifs” in that. But this game did have a lot of importance — especially to Nebraska. A team only gets so many Saturdays to play, and with most prognosticators predicting the Huskers to go 6-6 or 7-5, the game against Akron (or no game rather) could directly influence Nebraska’s bowl eligibility. That’s a HUGE deal. Wins for the Big Red are at a premium this season, and one just might have been erased.

Competitive advantage

So Nebraska will now open the season against old foe Colorado. With the Buffaloes having played a game, that’s a tremendous advantage for Colorado, which had a first game to work out all of the kinks from fall practice. Not only that, but you always hear about how teams improve the most from Game 1 to Game 2. Now, the Huskers may be ready to light up the scoreboard and play like we all hope. But the reality is that the players are dealing with new coaches, new offense, new tempo, new defense and, well, new everything. There’s no magical light switch, and it takes time to become comfortable and confident after so many changes. Will the emotional release of finally playing allow Nebraska to ride a wave of momentum over the Buffs? We’ll find out. But I expect to see some sloppy play and procedural penalties — especially in the first half. It’s rare that there won’t be.

Colorado whooped in-state rival Colorado State — and made it look easy. Now, the Rams are no juggernaut on defense, but the Buffs put up serious offensive numbers. And it all starts with quarterback Steven Montez, an impressive 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior who can hurt you by passing and by scrambling out of trouble. That’s a big dude who will usually fall forward for those crucial extra yards once he gets out of the pocket. The Texas native went 22 for 25 passing for 338 yards last week, and he’s a grinder. Maximum effort every game.

Nebraska’s defense

This time around, the Cornhuskers will be running a true, attacking 3-4 defense. What we saw under the “Diaco Fiasco” was called a 3-4, but was nothing of the sort. Former Huskers Jay Moore and Jay Foreman, who both played a 3-4 defense in the NFL, have been telling fans since last season how Bob Diaco’s defense never once resembled how a 3-4 should look like. But, now, under new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, there will be no doubt that fans will see a creative, aggressive, fun 3-4 defense. Will it be good enough to restore the “Blackshirt” tradition? Let’s give that time to simmer. But it will be fun to see effort, intensity and tacklers flying to the football again.

’Ziggy Stardust”

The running back competition took a hit with the loss of Tre Bryant. The back out of Missouri was completely mismanaged by the last staff with his workload at the beginning of the season on a bum knee. Bryant worked hard to be ready for this season after surgery and therapy, and he was primed for playing time. But all the wear and tear came with a price. His aches and pains at night were just too much to bear. His “old man knees” finally got the best of him, and he had to hang up his cleats. He’ll be missed on the field, but it was sure nice to see him come out of the tunnel with his former teammates on Saturday — with his jersey on. I’m sure he’s still welcome at any point to hang with the team.

We have to give some credit to wily veteran Devine Ozigbo. Did anyone expect “Ziggy Stardust” (as Frost calls him) to have a role in this type of offense? Well, the guy who has shaped his physique just about every year to fit whichever backfield role is needed has done it again. Yes, Ozigbo still is handing out tickets to his gun show, but he has slimmed down his body and picked up some speed. Not only will Ozigbo still be the “hammer” in short-yardage packages, he was listed at No. 2 behind newcomer Greg Bell. That’s a feat in itself and shows the maturity and dedication he has to this football team.

Depth at corner a concern

If a team has lockdown corners, a defense can become so much more creative in scheming against an offense. Confidence breeds from it. So does an attitude. But, on the other hand, shaky corners lead to a leaky defense that can be busted via the pass or run. Right now, I’d say that the Huskers corners are, well, just OK. We all know about Lamar Jackson. He’s been king of the forearm shiver since he stepped on campus and never met a tackle opportunity he liked. One of the greatest tests of this coaching staff is to get Jackson to play up to his ridiculous potential.

On the other side of the field will be Dicaprio Bootle. He may be on the “all-name team,” but he’s a little undersized. What helps is he’s one of the fastest players on the team and has good ball skills. He will play more this season than he ever has so far in his Husker career. Bootle has no choice but to be dependable in one-on-one situations.

Backing up Jackson and Bootle are Braxton Clark and Cam Taylor, respectively. Even though they are both freshmen, look for them to have immediate playing time. Taylor had a ton of buzz coming out of camp because of this physical play and athleticism. Unfortunately, this is his first time playing cornerback (after a stellar high school career at quarterback), but so far, it seems to be a natural fit. And most importantly, he seems to have the confidence for it. Taylor will hit you and let you know about it.

Clark created some buzz in fall practice as well with several interceptions. At 6-4, he’s one of the tallest cornerbacks that you’ll see. If he has the quickness in his hips to stay with wide receivers, he could be a real weapon for the defense.

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