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Published Sunday, April 21, 2002

Jury's still out on NU

Huskers provide few answers as Red downs White 17-7 in spring game


Last modified at 11:23 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, 2002
  

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photo: HuskersHQ
Independent/Barrett Stinson
Red teamıs Robin Miller (left) avoids a tackler during a first-half run Saturday during the annual Red-White game in Lincoln. The Red team won the game 17-7.

By Terry Douglass
douglass@theindependent.com

LINCOLN -- Many of the questions dogging the Nebraska football team remained unanswered Saturday as the Cornhuskers closed out their spring practice season with the annual Red-White game.

As a Memorial Stadium crowd of 31,420 braved unseasonably chilly temperatures in the 40s and second-half rain showers to watch the Red team beat the White 17-7, any clues about how Nebraska might fare next season were difficult to come by. While there were some impressive individual efforts on both sides of the ball, most Husker fans probably went away still wondering what life might be like after the departure of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Eric Crouch and a 2001 season that saw NU drop its final two games.

After abandoning his usual game-day spot on the sidelines to watch the action from high above Tom Osborne Field in the press box, Nebraska coach Frank Solich said he was generally pleased.

"We saw some young guys step up and make some plays, which we were interested in," Solich said. "That was on both sides of the ball."

Possibly the most significant question that has apparently been answered is who will take over the reins at quarterback. The answer is apparently Jammal Lord as the junior-to-be wore the green jersey -- making him off-limits to would-be tacklers -- and played in just the first two series of the game for the Red team, which included Nebraska's No. 1 offensive unit and No. 2 defense.

Although Lord was 0-of-2 passing, he showed hints of big-play ability, rushing for 28 yards on three carries. His most impressive effort was a 21-yard scramble for a first down on a third-and-10 play.

Lord's playing time was also limited because of the coaching staff's desire to settle the battle for the backup quarterback spot between Mike Stuntz and Curt Dukes. The two players split time on the Red and White teams, so that each got a chance to work with the Huskers' No. 1 offense.

Dukes, who graduated from high school in December and enrolled at Nebraska in January so that he could participate in spring drills, had the better statistical day. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Stony Point, N.C., completed 5-of-7 combined pass attempts for 51 yards with one interception. He also rushed for 10 yards on five carries.

Stuntz's early play was shaky as he mishandled several balls and completed 3-of-7 total pass attempts for 35 yards. The sophomore from Council Bluffs, Iowa, was sacked twice but did lead both the Red and White teams on touchdown drives. Despite an 18-yard run, he finished with four net yards rushing.

"Jammal, with the limited opportunities he had in there, has done well all spring as well as this game," Solich said. "I thought Curt Dukes had some big plays when he was called upon to do it."

Nebraska's biggest offensive plays came from its I-backs. All-Big 12 Conference selection Dahrran Diedrick had his best day of the spring with 96 yards rushing on 12 carries, including a 54-yard run midway through the third quarter for the Red, which finished with 147 yards rushing.

"That felt real good," said Diedrick, who led the Big 12 with 1,299 yards rushing last season. "All spring, I had just been getting a few yards here and there and not playing much. I knew that if I could get in there and get some more carries, it would eventually happen."

With No. 2 I-back Thunder Collins sitting out spring drills after having surgery on his injured shoulder, Marques Simmons and Cory Ross also showed some potential at I-back. Simmons had 88 yards on 12 carries, including a long run of 20 yards. Ross had 36 yards on four carries, including a 33-yarder.

"I just wanted to come out and show the coaches what I could do," said Simmons, who cut the Red's lead to 10-7 with a 10-yard touchdown run on an option play with 9:02 left in the third quarter. "I thought I did pretty well. Hopefully, they'll see that and I'll get a little playing time in the fall."

The White team finished with 138 rushing yards, giving Nebraska a total of just 285 yards on the day. However, Nebraska starting center John Garrison said he was impressed by the play of the No. 1 offensive line, which is trying to replace three starters, including San Diego Chargers draft choice Toniu Fonoti.

"Today, was really uplifting," said Garrison, who along with tackle Dan Vili Waldrop represent Nebraska's only returning starters on the offensive line. "It was a good feeling. Guys were coming off the ball, they were punishing people and that was great.

"We've got a lot of young, hungry guys that are coming off the ball and getting things done."

As was the case for most of the spring, the Cornhusker defensive units dominated most of the game. That's good news for defensive coordinator Craig Bohl, whose defense was torched for 99 points in consecutive losses to Colorado (62-36) and Miami (37-14) to close the 2001 season.

The White team, which included the No. 1 defense, gave up 173 total yards. The Red defense allowed 228 yards in the contest.

"There were some bright spots within the game," Bohl said. "I thought our offense really did a good job of executing against us. There were a couple of long, big plays and any time you have that on defense, I think that's a concern. I do think that there were some correctable errors there."

Bohl said his initial impression watching the game was that White team weak-side linebacker Demorrio Williams and defensive tackle Seppo Evwaraye of the Red squad played excellent games. Williams finished with a game-best 13 total tackles, including 10 solo stops and two tackles for loss. Evwaraye tied for third on the White with four tackles, but had a sack as did teammate Chad Sievers, who led the White with six stops.

However, after the game most of the talk was about Williams, a junior college transfer from Kilgore (Texas) Junior College, who appears ready to strongly challenge T.J. Hollowell for his starting spot in the fall. Hollowell (shoulder surgery) was among the eight Nebraska letterwinners to miss spring practice due to injuries.

Williams said he had hoped to make a big impression, enrolling at Nebraska in January so that he could participate in spring practices.

"It's just a thing where right now, my back is up against the wall," Williams said. "I've got two years here and I feel like I've got to prove myself to everybody. I feel like when Nebraska recruited me, they didn't recruit a guy to sit out one year. I feel like I've got some big shoes to fill for this defense.

"With the things I did this spring, I just wanted to put it on the coaches' minds that I could play at this level."

Several other NU defenders played well, including starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who finished with 9 tackles, and starting defensive tackle Patrick Kabongo, who had seven tackles for the Red.

Huskers starting cornerback DeJuan Groce saw limited action so that the coaching staff could take a better look at junior Pat Ricketts and sophomore Lornell McPherson. The two are battling for the cornerback spot left vacant by Willie Amos, who suffered a serious knee injury earlier in the spring.

Starting rush ends Chris Kelsay (shoulder) and Demoine Adams (groin) also sat out the spring game due to injuries.

Still, neither defense allowed a score until Josh Brown hit a 36-yard field goal with 5:14 left in the first half to put the Red team ahead 3-0. The score was set up by Adam Ickes' diving interception of a Dukes pass at the White's 47-yard line.

The Red's lead increased to 10-0 with 46 seconds left in the first half as Diedrick scored on a 1-yard run. The score came after Ira Cooper's blocked punt gave his team possession at the White's 13.

The White squad got its only score in the third quarter as Simmons accounted for 58 of the 77 yards in a 7-play drive on running plays. Simmons' 10-yard score came after taking the pitch from Stuntz on an option play.

Dukes helped the Red answer back on the ensuing possession with a perfectly-thrown 13-yard TD strike to Wilson Thomas with 5:24 left in the third quarter. Diedrick's 54-yard run was the big play in the drive as he broke free before finally being run down at the White's 20.



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