LINCOLN — Nebraska football coach Mike Riley described the Huskers’ first major scrimmage of August as efficient.
Played to effective stalemate between offense and defense, the scrimmage had only one worrisome injury — freshman linebacker Greg Simmons hurt his neck and was carted off the field for X-rays as a precaution — and Nebraska, at least for one sunny Saturday inside Memorial Stadium, limited big errors.
» NU had zero turnovers and, over the span of roughly 100 plays, not many penalties. Those were two bugaboos last season.
» Nebraska also wants to give up fewer big passing plays, and the Husker quarterbacks didn’t hit any of those. Receivers weren’t open downfield, and the few deep passes quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe tossed to the end zone fell incomplete because cornerbacks defended them well.
“We all know one of our things is that we can’t give up big plays over the corner’s head,” Riley said. “That’s a big, big factor in us winning games. When I see those guys make plays and look good and look like they’re sound down the field, that’s a pretty good sign.”
» The running game busted a few big plays — Devine Ozigbo gashed the first-team defense on an outside zone run, while freshman Tre Bryant tore up one of the reserve defenses with an attention-getting repertoire of stiff arms, hop steps and lowered shoulders — but the defense consistently firmed up during the first portion of the scrimmage, when offenses were trying to drive the length of the field for touchdowns.
To start the scrimmage, the No. 1 offense — led by Armstrong with a combination of Ozigbo, Terrell Newby and Mikale Wilbon at I-back — strung together two drives that crossed midfield, but neither led to points.
“You’d like to see us finish those drives, but we were encouraged by some plays in there,” Riley said. “Guys made some plays.”
The top offense’s initial drive was stifled by a rare — at least for a scrimmage — first-down run blitz, in which linebacker Josh Banderas stuffed Newby for a 4-yard loss.
“The next time we see a blitz like that on a running play,” Riley said, “we certainly should pick it up right away and get some yardage.”
The top offense’s second drive was blown up by linebacker Dedrick Young, who sniffed out an elaborately designed screen pass to Ozigbo. Young hit Ozigbo as the ball arrived, popping it free for an incomplete pass.
“I am so encouraged by that linebacker group,” Riley said.
The No. 2 offense, led by quarterback Fyfe, made little headway against the No. 2 defense, failing to cross the 50 on either of its first two possessions. Fyfe struggled, but Riley said the No. 2 offensive line didn’t protect him well from the pass rush.
Later series put the Husker offense at the defense’s 25-yard line. Twice, the No. 1 offense scored touchdowns in that setting. The first score featured Armstrong running 25 yards for a touchdown on a designed quarterback keeper around the left end of the defense, with Newby as a lead blocker. Armstrong had such a big hole, he jogged in.
Using Armstrong as a runner is “a great weapon used wisely — and probably not overused,” Riley said. “I think the plays that become option plays for him — if read correctly — kind of isolate him, at worst, in a one-on-one situation. I don’t feel too bad about that. So if we can get him on the edge, and it’s one-on-one, that’s pretty good to me. We make good decisions. We choose wisely when we do it. But with this guy’s ability, we can’t pass it up. And he doesn’t want to, either. He likes it.”
Both the top offensive and defensive lines feature new starters. The No. 1 defensive line featured ends Freedom Akinmoladun and Ross Dzuris and tackles Kevin Maurice and Mick Stoltenberg. The top offense was the same from spring practice: center Dylan Utter; guards Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer; and tackles Nick Gates and David Knevel.
“They need improvement in different ways,” Riley said. “Physically, just growing with the defensive line — they are youthful — and then, offensively, probably just assignments. The physical part looks good. I think they can block some guys well. It’s just blocking the right guy.”
The Huskers scrimmaged without several starters: linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey (knee strain), tight end Cethan Carter (concussion protocol) and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (groin).
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