Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was pleased with his team’s progress throughout the offseason, until this week.
With school back in session the same week as Nebraska’s first game, Frost said on Thursday morning that he noticed a dip in the team’s execution during practice all week.
“I wasn’t as happy with Tuesday and Wednesday practice as I would have liked to have been,” Frost said. “They were good, but I think just going to class and a lot of changes to the routine affected them a little. Today was really good.”
Unlike last year’s season-opener against Colorado, just being good might be enough for Nebraska against South Alabama on Saturday. The Jaguars went 3-9 in Steve Campbell’s first season as their head coach, and enter Saturday with larger issues and more uncertainty than the Huskers.
In 2018, the Jaguars finished lower than 90th nationally in nearly every statistical category for both offense and defense. They scored just 24.2 points per game, and scored more than 17 points just five times.
Sophomore quarterback Cephus Johnson will make his starting debut in Saturday’s game, but has just two of South Alabama’s five leading receivers returning from last season. One of those players is senior running back Tra Minter, who finished last season with 1,002 total yards.
Minter had 252 total yards in South Alabama’s 31-28 victory over Coastal Carolina in last year’s final game of the season.
On defense, the Jaguars will have their hands full with Nebraska’s fast-paced offense. They return two of their six leading tacklers, who will spend Saturday’s game chasing a variety of Husker weapons both old and new.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez has dark-horse Heisman buzz going into his sophomore year, but he will have to trust a new-look receiving corps that will be without 2018 top receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. Martinez and Nebraska will have junior wide receiver JD Spielman back, and he has been asked to step up as a leader this season.
Spielman finished last season with 818 receiving yards, but missed the final two games of the season with a knee injury. At 1,648 career receiving yards and 121 career receptions, Spielman has a chance to rewrite Nebraska’s record books with a strong season.
Martinez will also have a pair of brand new weapons in true freshman hybrid Wan’Dale Robinson and graduate transfer wide receiver Kanawai Noa. Robinson’s speed and agility has earned praise from the coaching staff in the offseason, and Noa had 788 receiving yards in his 2017 season at California.
Nebraska still has uncertainty at running back going into Saturday’s game. Junior college transfer Dedrick Mills was named the starter on Monday and Frost said he will take the field first. Sophomore Maurice Washington was also listed as a starter, but as of Thursday, his status has not been determined for Saturday.
Frost said it will be a game-time decision. Washington is involved in an ongoing legal matter in California currently, but has been practicing for most of fall camp. He is scheduled to appear in court next week.
With the redshirt rule changing last year to allow players to redshirt, but still play in four games, there is a chance many young players could see the field in Saturday’s game if it gets out of hand early.
“I want people to tell me after the game that our guys were flying around and looked like we were playing fast in all three phases of the game,” Frost said about his expectations. “There's no sense dipping our toe in the water. We've been practicing fast. I want them to play that way on the field.”
Saturday’s game will kick off at 11 a.m. and can be viewed on ESPN.