All Points West: Big Red pieces fall into place
     2016-04-01      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
What’s happening in Nebraska football?

I know we are away off from the actual season with the first game against Fresno State scheduled for Sept. 3, but the Red-White Spring Game, scheduled for April 16 is right around the corner, and it’s not too early to start thinking about Big Red turning the corner on the recent coaching shuffle and aftermath, specifically a less-than-stellar first season for Coach Mike Riley who was lured from Oregon State to, in his words, lead a big time program.

Riley and staff have wasted little time on the rubble that was the 2015 season, the close losses, the disappointment. Facing an even tougher schedule this year, the Huskers have landed some highly touted recruits. Bringing in top talent can only improve competition on the practice field, which would most likely produce positive results in games, especially in close games, which do not involve a Hail Mary pass in the last second. Remember the season opener against BYU? That fateful game probably set the tone for the season.

That was the distant past. Now it’s time to move on to the not-too distant future.

Big Ten lead writer Ben Axelrod says to expect the unexpected in the 2016 season. He mentions usual suspects: Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland, with new head coach D.J. Durkin making a difference for the Terps, will all be there. He predicts Nebraska will win the Big Ten West, dismissing last season, saying the Huskers were better than a 5-7 regular season record. The 37-29 win over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl was a big shot in the arm, and proved Nebraska can run with the big dogs.

This season, Nebraska’s biggest tests will come against the Oregon Ducks on Sept. 17, and Wisconsin on Oct. 29, and Ohio State the following week. It’s uncertain which Duck team will show up, but the Huskers should leave little doubt that Nebraska brand football is making a comeback. As for the Buckeyes, Axelrod said the QB situation turned out to be a liability. Take heed Huskers. Let’s not fall into that trap.

Some movement on the recruiting front helped the fandom to heave a sigh of relief that Husker nation is heading in the right direction. Wide Receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr., son of Keyshawn Johnson Sr., will not be following his father to USC. Instead, the young blue chipper committed to Nebraska on March 23, citing the coaching staff as the main reason. We know it wasn’t the jubilant winters. Junior, ranked the 25th best wide-out nationally in the class of 2017, and is the 23rd best player in California, hails from Calabassas High School in Calabassas. Sports analysts and bloggers agree the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, genetics aside, bears the skills Nebraska needs at this specialty position. Not to mention, his Pops probably has some good advice in stepping up to the college level.

Other recruits on the radar include Willie Hampton, an outside linebacker from West Palm Beach, Florida. His prototypical size, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds would strengthen an already experienced line-backing corps, where Nebraska suffered from lack of depth last season due to injury. Seniors Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey will give it their last hurrah, and impart a wealth of game experience to a host of about half a dozen underclassmen, including Hampton. Jaevon McQuitty, another wide receiver from Battle High School in Columbia, Missouri, gives Nebraska’s QB, whoever that may be, another target streaking down the sidelines.

Who will that deliverer be? Most of the talk during the offseason was about quarterback recruit Patrick O’Brien, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound product out of San Juan Capistrano, California, giving senior Tommy Armstrong a run for his money, by bringing his pro style arm to the mix. One thing that might be amiss in O’Brien’s arsenal of skills is mobility, and the ability to sniff an opening at key moments.

With Tommy it’s a gamble, but when it pays off, it pays off big. At the end of last season, Armstrong vowed to shore up a few short-comings including his technique, opting not to pass when his feet aren’t set, which ties into his decision making (throwing interceptions in the end zone). If he’s true to his word, fans will see evidence in the spring game. O’Brien led San Juan Hills School to an 8-3 record and a berth in the 2015 CIF Section playoffs.

Nebraska adds defensive line coach John Parrella to its staff. According to his Huskers’ staff bio, Parrella, a native of Grand Island, spent his last two seasons at Northern Michigan University. He’s also a pedigreed Husker, and knows first-hand what it takes for a Nebraska team to win. He was All-Big Eight at defensive tackle, and a three-year letter winner for Coach Tom Osborne in his 20th year of coaching. He was named a captain in his senior year in 1992 when Nebraska went 9-3 during the regular season. We can probably agree his was the class that built the foundation for the 94-95 championship seasons. After his successful career in college, he went on to play 12 years in the NFL. Players on the D line already have tweeted about Parrella, and the immediate respect he has garnered, and remain confident Nebraska’s defense will return to an era of dominance in carrying the tradition of proud Black Shirts.

We are just two weeks away from the day.

The Red-White game will be televised on BTN2Go.

GBR!

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