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5 things we learned about Nebraska football this spring

Before moving on from Nebraska football spring practices, here are five thing we learned about the Huskers going into 2024.

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Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska football wrapped up spring ball last Saturday with its annual spring game and the buzz about quarterback Dylan Raiola was palpable.

Raiola was the big talking point after the spring game. He was the talk of spring ball. The other quarterbacks made some headlines too, as did the wide receivers, but Raiola is the star of the show.

He played like it last Saturday. It was one spring game but it gave every Nebraska football fan a glimpse into the future. Raiola could change the fortunes of this program and looking back on the spring as a whole one final time, here are five things we learned about Nebraska football.

The QB problem is solved

Nebraska football might have gotten a superstar in Dylan Raiola, but all it really needs to get to a bowl game is someone who isn’t going to turn the ball over 2-3 times per game.

Turnovers from the quarterback position cost Nebraska what should have been a winning season in 2023. The Huskers were good enough to win the Big Ten West, but they couldn’t stay out of their own way.

This season, they have fixed the quarterback position. I’m less worried about the number of touchdown passes Raiola will throw and more focused on the number of interceptions. If he keeps that number in single digits, this team will win at least eight games.

The defense is incredible. I have questions about the running game but I like the offensive line and I love what Matt Rhule did at quarterback. Heinrich Haarberg has improved thanks to Glen Thomas, who also has Daniel Kaelin and Raiola looking ready for Week 1.

Nebraska upgraded its quarterback room dramatically and that was on display this spring.

The passing game can be dynamic

Jeff Sims looked great last spring, so let’s not crown the offense just yet. Still, it looks like it could be one of the best the Huskers have had in a long time, especially throwing the football.

That’s due to Raiola having legitimate weapons. Jahmal Banks and Isaiah Neyor were key additions from the transfer portal, but youngsters like Jaylen Lloyd, Jacory Barney, and have also been electric.

Lloyd was one of two Big Ten wideouts to have three touchdown catches of longer than 50 yards last season. The other just went fourth overall to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2024 NFL draft. Lloyd then caught a 68-yard touchdown in the spring game.

He’s different and this pass offense will be different from what Nebraska fans are used to. It feels like the Huskers have as much receiving talent as they have ever had on a roster and with Raiola playing quarterback, it should be fun and deadly effective.

There is suitable depth and competition everywhere

Raiola is going to start this fall. But the kid has had to earn it. Haarberg has played well and Kaelin has dropped some dimes along the way too.

Competition brings out the best in everyone and this roster has real competition. Whether it’s quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, the offensive line — nearly every position has guys battling it out for playing time.

That’s the way it should be, but the depth of his program wasn’t where it needed to be under Scott Frost or Mike Riley. Now, it’s going to be tough to get this roster down to 120. Forget about the 85-man scholarship limit — Matt Rhule and the Huskers have a workaround for that with NIL.

The depth from 1-120 is impressive though and finally seems to have the kind of depth you’d expect from a Nebraska football team.

In just one year, Rhule has raised the talent floor of this program considerably.

The RB battle will be interesting

If you evaluated the running backs on all of spring ball, I’d have to give the edge to Emmett Johnson. By all accounts, he had the better spring. It took Dante Dowdwell, the transfer from Oregon, some time to adjust, but he tore it up in the spring game with a 49-yard touchdown run.

Rhule talked about Rahmir Johnson in the spring. Gabe Ervin is also still on the roster. That’s a pretty solid top-four if they can stay healthy.

There’s a reason they were interested in Dylan Edwards. This room doesn’t have an impact player and I’m still not sure it does going into this season. Johnson averaged 4.5 yards per attempt last season though and if he can maintain that with more carries, he could be a real threat.

Johnson didn’t do much in the spring game, but again, it was one “scrimmage.” It wasn’t even a real game. I’m not worried about him but of all the competition I talked about, the RB battle will be among the most interesting to follow in fall camp, especially when Johnson and Irvin re-enter the mix.

Nebraska football is primed for Rhule’s second-year leap

Last season, the Huskers were elite on defense. Maybe elite is a strong word but I think they had the fourth-best defense in the Big Ten behind Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa.

This year, it should be even better. They need to force more takeaways, but they will. It will help to play with the lead a little more, which would allow Tony White to be even more aggressive.

But as long as the defense maintains what it did last season and Raiola can be that same guy in the spring game for 12 games, this team could do a lot more than just make a bowl game.

Six wins is the goal — just because Nebraska hasn’t reached it for so long, but after watching this team last Saturday, it feels capable of much more.

Rhule’s teams have historically made a big jump in year two and all signs point to the Huskers doing the same thing in his second season as Nebraska football head coach.

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Chris has worked in sports journalism since 2005 writing for multiple newspapers and websites such as the Bleacher Report and Fansided before starting Husker Big Red, A fan site for hardcore followers of the #Huskers offering articles, podcasts, videos and more exclusive content on all things Nebraska

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