|Red-White Game: Punter Foltz to play big; Huskers sort through QBs|
|April 16, 2015 Frank Marquez|
While new Husker Head Coach Mike Riley may have a tough decision about who plays under center, the buzz outside of early wrinkles was how the new coaching regime was getting along in Husker-land.
It looked just fine in the annual spring scrimmage on April 12 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln where a record 76,881 of the Husker faithful showed up to watch the Red hold off White, 24-14, in a game telecast live on the Big Ten Network. Riley and his calm staff had big smiles for press and fans alike. But how much of it was awe? I bet Coach Riley never saw this in Corvalis.
While Riley’s focus was on quarterbacks, Nebraska’s real concern may just be the improved ability to pay attention to detail.
As part of the team sticking to fundamentals, punter Sam Foltz can’t be overlooked as the man who can give the Huskers good if not great field position with his booming kicks. Plus, as many fans already know, he can tackle with the best of them.
In the first quarter, Foltz stopped a big return by crazy legs De’Mornay Pierson-El in the open field. “It was a perfect double-leg takedown, something All-American Husker wrestler Robert Kokesh would have been proud of,” BTN announcers said. They also raved about how much a factor Foltz will be in close games, remarking repeatedly, “He’s got a chance to compete. He doesn’t even look like a punter. He’s such a weapon. If you can take care of the small things, you’re going to be in the football game.”
Throughout the scrimmage, Foltz entertained the crowd with his crushing boots, including a 71-yarder in the air that was downed at the one-yard line. Overall, he punted eight times for 418 yards for better than a 52-yard per punt average. He did not punt at all in the second half.
And, if you didn’t know, the 6-1, 200-pound Foltz was a multi-purpose player for the Grand Island Islanders, who went 9-2 and got as far as the Class A quarterfinals in his senior season. A first-team All-Nebraska pick as a senior defensive back, Foltz led Grand Island in tackles with 84, including 61 solo stops, and four interceptions. Foltz may serve as the X-factor on fakes.
On offense, Foltz was a favorite target of fellow Husker Ryker Fyfe. He caught 39 passes for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. He shined on special teams, where he was member of the Lincoln Journal Star Super State team as a senior punter. During his junior season, Foltz had 60 total tackles and five interceptions.
Foltz also competed in track and field, earning a third-place finish in the 400-meter dash at the 2012 state track and field meet. Foltz was selected to participate in the 2012 Nebraska Shrine Bowl and caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Fyfe. Foltz chose to walk on at Nebraska over scholarship offers from South Dakota State, Northwest Missouri State, Nebraska-Kearney and South Dakota.
According to Huskers.com Foltz ranked fifth in Big Ten punting average last season, while helping Nebraska to a No. 4 net punting ranking in the conference. Foltz also improved his directional punting and had 26 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Foltz was honored for his work, being named an honorable-mention All-Big Ten pick by the conference coaches. He is likely to contend for bigger prizes this fall. Foltz also handled the Huskers’ holding duties, helping freshman Drew Brown to a perfect PAT season.
While some things remain the same, there’s no question about change in the Husker run-dominated doctrine. The first one will implement the same pro-style offense used by Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf with Oregon State, one that has exchanged athleticism for in-the-pocket poise.
Learning the new style, six quarterbacks took snaps this past Saturday: incumbent Tommy Armstrong, senior Tyson Broekemeier, junior Fyfe, sophomore Johnny Stanton and redshirt freshmen A.J. Bush and Zack Darlington. As a whole, the group accounted for 412 yards on 34-of-68 passing, tossing just one more touchdown, four, than interceptions.
About Armstrong, Riley told USA Today, "The hard part for a guy that's been playing for a couple years is having all of a sudden a whole new system put in. The thing that never wavered about Tommy, and that's the separator for him right now as I see it right now is his confidence.
Riley added: "He's a confident guy. He plays like it. I like that about him. I think that the football part of it, that's a tough thing to have your foundation of what you know, pulled out from under you."
Watching all the quarterbacks with a discriminating eye, I advise watching for the Darlington-Jamal Turner connection. Turner, a dynamic receiver, returns from an Achilles injury he was rehabbing last year.
Adrian Fiala, who served as a color commentator for Husker radio broadcasts from 1996 until 2010 and who was a rugged Nebraska linebacker during the late 1960s, died Monday at age 67. He will be greatly missed.
The Huskers kick off the 2015 college football season on Sept. 5 against the BYU Cougars.