We’ve made it. I’ve felt like a father ready to rip his hair out on a long road trip all summer long because the inner child in my mind has been whispering “are we there yet”. Finally, I can put the car in park, look out across the college football landscape, stand with my hands on my hips and grin while slightly nodding pridefully to myself. I made it through. Nay, WE made it through.
So here we are, college football’s second official week of the season, week one as far as Nebraska’s concerned. We highlighted earlier this month about how Arkansas State is no pushover and how they might actually challenge Nebraska in some areas on the gridiron. Now let’s take a look at the match ups we will see this Saturday and who is poised to have a big game.
#1 J.D. Spielman
Saturday will be a coming out party for J.D. Spielman, but first let’s breakdown what is in my mind, the most intriguing match up and that is Arkansas State’s secondary vs. Nebraska’s wide receiving corps. Starting for the Husker’s at wide receiver will be Stanley Morgan Jr., J.D. Speilman and De’Mornay Pierson-El. Behind them will be the big bodied Bryan Reimers, the quick Tyjon Lindsey and senior possesion receiver Gabe Rahn. Both Morgan and Pierslon-El bring with them veteran leadership, while Spielman will be playing in his first game at Nebraska coming off a red-shirt freshman season. Morgan had the most polished 2016 campaign, coming in second behind former Husker stand out Jordan Westerkamp in receiving yards. But the real speed in Nebraska’s wide receivers corp comes from Speilman and Lindsey who both posted 4.5 forty yard dash times in high school.
Lining up across from Nebraska’s X,Y and Z will be a very fast secondary, but a secondary that will have some holes in it due to inexperience. Justin Clifton, Arkansas State’s leading tackler from a year ago clocks in at 4.4 while returning corner Taylor Blaise comes in at 4.5. Joining them in the secondary will be a mix of inexperienced players and transfers starting with corner, Nehemiah Wagnar who also has 4.5 speed. Along side them is B.J. Edmonds, a sophomore strong safety and Darreon Jackson, a sophomore free safety transfer from Boise State.
While Nebraska’s J.D. Spielman and back up wide out Tyjon Lindsey are the only Nebraska wide receivers who can go toe to toe in a foot race with this secondary, Nebraska’s ability to run the football and work play action into their scheme should give them opportunity to take advantage of a defense that is returning only four starters from a year ago. Look for Spielman to seep through the cracks of Arkansas State’s secondary with his blazing speed off play action for huge chunks of yardage.
3 WEEKS AWAY! pic.twitter.com/QIxhvOxP6Z
— Iron N Football (@HuskerBoneyard) August 12, 2017
2. Nebraska’s Offensive Line
The next match up and the one with arguably the most question marks is the battle in the trenches. Nebraska is returning most of it’s offensive line. All five starters received ample playing time last season. Four out of the five are juniors. They are Nick Gates, Jerald Foster, Cole Conrad and Tanner Farmer. David Knevel is the sole senior. While Nebraska struggled mightily last year to get a push up front, coming in 73rd in the nation in rushing offense, having a core group of experienced linemen can only help to improve their ability to move the ball on the ground.
Across from them will stand a former Alabama defensive lineman turned Arkansas State Red Wolf in Dee Liner (yes, that is his name). Dee Liner is a notorious problem causer in the middle of the defensive line. Accompanying him on the edge will be Javon Rolland-Jones, a dominant pass rusher who is 13.5 sacks away from the NCAA career record. Although Arkansas State has the ability to muck things up at the line a scrimmage, Nebraska’s offensive line’s continuity should give them the upper hand.
This game will be a the perfect first test for Nebraska and should reveal what we can expect in the weeks to follow. Look for Nebraska to adapt and overcome early on in this football game, then slowly wear down ASU’s front four. Opening up the running game and play action in the later quarters.
3. Tanner Lee
Lastly, we could not finish this article with out discussing the walking hype train, albeit by none of his own doing, Tanner Lee. Tanner Lee by all accounts has the keys to be a great quarterback. What we do not know is how he will perform on a big stage. The University of Tulane is an amazing establishment, but they do not do college football like Nebraska does college football. That said, with Nebraska’s running back by committee, depth at wide receiver and congruent offensive identity, Tanner Lee can be more of a game manager early in the season. Playing smart and in control will enable him to be a playmaker once conference play comes around. Look for Tanner Lee to slowly chip away at the ASU secondary and then make some big throws in the second, third and fourth quarters. Stay “disciplined and consistent” will be the motto for Lee in the early games this season.
New Nebraska starting QB Tanner Lee pic.twitter.com/hpDmAGBXeJ
— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 15, 2017
The luxury of hosting Arkansas State is that they are just good enough to give Nebraska a very good look on both sides of the football. That does not mean that they are a cupcake. What it means is that Arkansas State is the perfect confidence builder before Nebraska rolls into Eugene, Oregon to play the Ducks.