On Saturday afternoon, Husker fans, football was back, albeit for just a brief moment, but it was great to see the scarlet and cream on the field at Memorial Stadium. To be perfectly honest, the game was just something that got in the way of something that should have happened years ago, the honoring of former player, assistant and Head Coach Frank Solich. Old number 45 was honored by the new regime when Coach Matt Rhule called a fullback trap on the opening play of the spring game and immediately presented the ball from the play to Coach Solich. Coach Frank guided the Big Red from 1998 to 2003 when he was fired after a 58-19 record by new Athletic Director Steve Pederson. The 58 wins in six seasons exceeded Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne’s total in their first six years at the helm.
An announced crowd of 66,045 saw the Rhule era begin on Tom Osborne Field on Saturday. My guess is the actual crowd on hand Saturday was closer to 45,000, but Nebraska has always overstated crowd sizes. The scanned ticket number against Wisconsin last season was 46,613, and this crowd looked much smaller. That’s a battle for another day. On this day, Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced that the new locker rooms would be named for Coach Solich by the Touchdown Club. Solich gave brief comments on the field, thanking his family, Coach Osborne and the fans and wishing Coached Rhule a great year. He finished by saying, “Let’s go, Big Red, alrighty baby.”
What did we learn from the game itself? While a good athlete, Jeff Sims hasn’t taken anything away from incumbent Casey Thompson. His numbers were good Saturday, 9/13 for 139 yards, but let’s not anoint him as the starter quite yet. Casey Thompson is a competitor and won’t go down without a fight. We did learn Chubba Purdy, Richard Torres and Heinrich Haarberg are not yet able to lead the team and at least two of those four will soon leave the team. My guess is Torres and Haarberg will enter the transfer portal before long.
Local Johnson-Brock grad Ty Hahn had a couple of grabs at receiver on Saturday; however, the first was spoiled by a fumble and turnover. I still expect Hahn to see some real minutes come fall.
The much-talked-about running back room did little to impress. Rahmir Johnson had the best output on Saturday afternoon with six totes for 35 yards, but Anthony Grant and Gabe Ervin Jr. did nothing to hurt their status as go-to backs.
One piece of play that needs work is keeping the ball off the turf. The Husker’s offense put the ball on the ground four times by the 9:00 mark of the second quarter. There were numerous timing issues between QBs and running backs and multiple problems between the QB and center exchange. Nothing that can’t be figured out by the time fall rolls around.
Another issue to continue to work on in the summer months will be the kicking game. If we were locked into a tie game against Iowa with only seconds remaining, I don’t feel comfortable with any of our kickers booting the ball through the uprights from any distance for the win.
It took 20 years to get Coach Solich back to Memorial Stadium to give him the proper sendoff he deserved. Solich was hesitant to return to Lincoln; wouldn’t you be after how a previous regime treated him? Now maybe the “curse” can be put to rest and the Big Red can regain its place among the college football elite.
Coach Rhule has said all the right things, but can that translate into wins? I’ve been sucked in repeatedly over the years by the new coaching staffs (not Scott Frost), but this time I will need to see a little proof before I get hooked. I will admit I was not a fan of the hire last fall, but since that time, Rhule has grown on me. He has impressed me with going after recruits and embracing the traditions that surround the Husker football program. I genuinely believe we will see a much more polished product when camp ends in the fall and the season begins. Six, maybe seven wins are not out of the question. Someone will need to take the reigns and show leadership and bring the club together as one. Once that happens, we will see things turn in the right direction.
I can’t wait for fall to see the improvements that have been made and to see our Huskers compete against some of the best competition in the country. Go Big Red.