Nebraska will take the field on Thursday afternoon with a slew of questions to answer. Here are the three biggest entering the 2016 season.
How will Nebraska use the run game?
If you want a template for how Nebraska is approaching this season offensively, coach Mike Riley offered one on Wednesday. He said to look at the Foster Farms Bowl win over UCLA last season.
In 37-29 win, Tommy Armstrong threw 19 times, connecting on 12, for 147 yards and one touchdown.
The Huskers also rushed 62 times for 326 yards and four touchdowns.
Riley said Wednesday he doesn’t necessarily want it that lopsided, but emphasized heavily the need for Nebraska to have a steady ground game.
“We don’t want to be that team that’s throwing 45 times a game,” Riley said.
The question now becomes: who will get the carries?
Riley called sophomore Devine Ozigbo, senior Terrell Newby and freshman Tre Bryant all viable options, also mentioning he’s game for some run/pass option plays for Armstrong. As for who will get the bulk of the carries is still up in the air.
For now, Riley said, it’s all what he and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf see the best fit situationally and positionally.
How will Nebraska use its wide receivers
Nebraska has five legitimate targets at wide receiver this season. Six if you add TE Cethan Carter.
Riley said Wednesday it is among of the best receiving corps says he’s ever coached.
Tommy Armstrong even took it a step further, saying this might be the best group of wide receivers Nebraska has ever seen.
With seniors Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Brandon Riley, the Huskers have a wealth of experience. With sophomore Stanley Morgan Jr., a rising star. With junior De’Mornay Pierson-El, who missed most of last season with injuries and was Second Team All-American his freshman year, a hidden spark plug.
Now it’s just about how you make it work, and who will rise above the rest.
“There will be guys fighting for snaps,” Westerkamp said. “But it increases competition.”
Who will step up on the offensive and defensive line?
Entering fall camp, the biggest questions, without a doubt, linger around the offensive and defensive lines.
After Greg McMullen quit football, and Vincent Valentine and Malik Collins left for the NFL and Kevin Williams transferred to Michigan State, the Huskers now only return one forged defensive linemen in sophomore Freedom Akinmoladun. A deep line backing corps will carry the Blackshirts this year, but putting pressure on the quarterback will be essential for Nebraska, especially since the Husker secondary was statistically one of the worst in the country last season.
“We expect growth in camp, we expect growth in the season,” Riley said of the defensive line.
Riley mentioned a few names that could steal starting roles on the line, including redshirt freshmen Carlos and Khalil Davis. Riley said the 3-star recruits from Blue Springs, Missouri, both show tremendous upside. Maybe more than any other freshman on the team.
True freshman Matt Farniok could also make a name for himself in fall camp on the offensive line. With the exception of Dylan Utter, who will be the starting center, every position will be wide open.
If Riley wants to run the ball the way he does, the offensive line will surely need to come around in the next few weeks.