With all eyes on the player behind the center, all four quarterbacks showed impressive skills in Nebraska’s Red-White scrimmage on Saturday inside Memorial Stadium.
“Overall the efficiency of the quarterbacking was good,” coach Mike Riley said after the game. “I’m proud of that.”
The lopsided 55-7 victory by the Red team was aided by the fact that they had mostly first-string players. The White team consisted of second and third strings.
The two quarterbacks battling for the starting role for next season, junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien, were both placed on the Red team.
O’Brien took the opening-drive snaps for the Red team, a decision that was made by a coin flip from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
“I called heads,” O’Brien said. “And I won.”
Riley expressed the quarterbacks may not have made the best throws, but they were the right throws.
“I don’t know what their percentages were, but it seems to me that it must have been pretty good,” Riley said. “They just looked like when they had something, they made a throw and they completed it.”
Lee edged O’Brien across the stat line. He completed 13 of 19 attempts for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
O’Brien completed 11 of 17 attempts for 134 yards and one touchdown.
Perhaps the best throw of the day, from any quarterback, came from Lee late in the second quarter. Lee connected with redshirt freshman JD Spielman in the corner of the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. Spielman beat two defenders to the ball.
“JD made a great play,” Lee said. “Figured I had an opportunity to put it out there and it worked out.”
Lee said he would like the throws to be a little bit easier, but added sometimes he has to make a play.
Riley said he still does not know who the starting quarterback for next season will be.
“I have not thought about it, but we certainly will,” Riley said.
In his first appearance in front of the 78,312 fans inside Memorial Stadium, a poised true freshman Tristian Gebbia showed minimal signs of immaturity.
Gebbia, who early enrolled this January, led the majority of the drives for the White team against the first-string Red defense.
The Calabasas (California) graduate completed 19 of 30 attempts for 213 yards and one interception while wearing a white jersey. He scored a four-yard rushing touchdown early in the second.
In the fourth quarter, Gebbia switched to the Red team and completed 9 of 15 attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown.
“I think he is a heck of a young quarterback and has done a nice job this spring and made a whole lot of plays today,” Riley said.
Riley said the plan is for Gebbia to redshirt next season, but with only four quarterbacks, Gebbia may do what O’Brien did last season and serve as an emergency quarterback.
Red team quarterbacks, Lee and O’Brien, were impressed with Gebbia’s performance.
“He grew up a lot,” O’Brien said. “Going against the ones defense, he did a great job.”
With all the time Gebbia spends in the film room and asking questions, Lee said he knew Gebbia would play well in the scrimmage.
“I kept telling him that and I’m really glad that he did,” Lee said.
When Gebbia transitioned to the Red team, sophomore transfer Andrew Bunch took the reigns for the White team. Bunch, who played at Scottsdale Community College last year, completed 10 of 14 attempts for 101 yards. Bunch also ran three times for 19 yards.
Gebbia’s rushing touchdown in the second quarter was the only points scored by the White team.
First year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco showed nothing from the newly installed 3-4 scheme, instead he ran all 4-3.
Riley said the decision was made to prevent the broadcasting of the game to act as a scouting tool for opposing teams next season.
“There was no way that we wanted to do anything that was out of the box at all,” Riley said. “We certainly didn’t want them to see what blitzes, all the different fronts, all the stuff that we practiced all spring. I don’t want that on tape for somebody.”
Looking at the spring season overall, Riley said he really likes this team and they will continue to grow.
“When you’re talking about putting in a whole new defense and making it come alive in games and have it be good; we’re going to have a lot of growth and a lot of thought into what we do in fall camp,” Riley said.