Freshmen’s performance points to brighter 2016 for Nebraska

Just like every team in college football, Nebraska will be saying farewell to several contributors from their 2015 team. Six seniors played their last game on offense against UCLA, while two senior starters and (most likely) two junior defensive tackles will be moving on as well. Nebraska will be losing a lot, but if the UCLA performance is any indication, Nebraska fans won’t have much to worry about going into the future.

Seven, that’s right, seven true/redshirt freshmen played the majority of Nebraska’s victory in the Foster Farms Bowl against a flawed but very talented UCLA team. The best of the group was right tackle Nick Gates, who completed an impressive freshman season with a dominant performance against UCLA’s undersized defensive ends. Gates was joined on offense by a true freshman running back, who had his breakout game finishing with 80 yards rushing and 15 yards receiving, and Stanley Morgan, who ended up on the highlight reel for his tremendous one handed touchdown catch.

On defense, the youth movement was in full swing, as Dedrick Young, Freedom Akinmoladun, Aaron Williams, and Antonio Reed all played the majority of the game for the Blackshirts. Young finished his stellar freshman season with a five tackle performance while playing in Nebraska’s nickel packages. Aaron Williams and Antonio Reed were both thrust into starting roles, Williams due to senior Jonathan Rose’s suspension, Reed for Nate Gerry’s terrible ejection due to targeting. Williams played nearly the entire game as Nebraska’s nickel back and was Nebraska’s most consistent tackler, while Reed spent the entire second half covering UCLA’s all-conference tight end Thomas Duarte, and did a pretty good job at it.

In terms of statistics, Nebraska will be losing 0 passing yards, 716 rushing yards, and 202 receiving yards on offense. They will be returning 3,470 passing yards, 1,624 rushing yards, and 3,268 receiving yards, meaning Nebraska will be returning more production than any other team in the Big 10. The main question will be the reshuffling of an offensive line that started four seniors. Sophomores Tanner Farmer and DJ Foster, as well as freshmen Christian Gaylord, Jalin Barnett, and John Raridon have considerable talent, but are still unproven. The only other real question for Nebraska is the replacement of fan favorite Andy Janovich at fullback. Sophomore Harrison Jordan, a former walk on from Omaha Westside, appears to have the leg up heading into spring ball.

On defense, the likes of Jack Gangwish, Maliek Collins, Byerson Cockrell, and (probably) Vincent Valentine will be sorely missed, but Nebraska has recruited well at the defensive tackle and safety positions in the last two years. Talented and hungry youngsters such as Mick Stoltenberg, Carlos Davis, and Kahlil Davis will battle it out this spring to join senior Kevin Maurice as Nebraska’s starting defensive tackle. Daishon Neal, Alex Davis, and Ben Stille, who are all freshmen, will fight to replace Jack Gangwish as Nebraska’s starting defensive end, and Antonio Reed and Aaron Williams are the likely front runners to take over Byerson Cockrell’s strong safety position.

Nebraska still has plenty of questions to answer heading into the second year under Mike Riley however. Can Tommy Armstrong be consistent? Can the run game do what it did against UCLA consistently? Will the secondary build off a decent four game stretch to end the season? One question that has been answered though, is if Nebraska has enough young talent for the future, the Foster Farms Bowl answered that with a resounding “YES!”

 

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