LINCOLN — Nebraska I-back Imani Cross had six carries for a 100 yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Johnny Stanton added two touchdown passes to help the offense beat the defense 55-46 in the Huskers spring game at Memorial Stadium.
But what happened during Saturday’s actual scrimmage could never outdo what happened during the Tunnel Walk right before it.
NU head coach Bo Pelini, in a response to a Twitter war with parody account Faux Pelini, walked out of the Huskers’ locker room with his cat. Upon entering the field, he then lifted the feline up in the air a la “The Lion King,” to the roar of 61,772 in attendance and millions more across the Internet.
“We were just trying to have a little bit of fun,” Pelini said. “It had to with the fake Bo Pelini account. It seems people know a lot more about it than I do. They tried to get me to put a sweater on, but that wasn’t happening.”
The coach’s hilarious response to Faux Pelini set the tone for a day that saw Pelini challenge Kenny Bell in a throw off (Bell won 2-0, then celebrated by doing the airplane), a former Husker propose to his girlfriend during a punt, pass and kick competition, and a couple of cheerleaders call the plays on a touchdown scoring drive. Oh, Bell also ran the on-field camera for the Big Ten Network.
While the fun kept things entertaining for the fans, the importance of the day for some Husker players wasn’t forgotten.
Cross proved that he is more than just a bruiser by dominating the first half with touchdown runs of 19 and 39 yards against the Huskers’ No. 1 defensive unit. He averaged 16.7 yards per carry.
“I’ve just been trying to get more explosive in the weight room,” Cross said. “I’m working hard and I’m doing my squats. I’m really pushing hard when I’m doing sleds and trying to push so when I get open field it’s not as long as a transition to get to full speed.”
Pelini said after the game that, solely based off his experience replacing an injured Taylor Martinez last season, Armstrong is at the top of quarterback depth chart.
Armstrong finished 4-of-8 passing for 97 yards, but was mostly harassed by the defense, resulting in negative seven yards rushing. The day belonged to quarterbacks Stanton and Ryker Fyfe, who have been competing all spring for that second-string spot.
Stanton found wide receiver Kevin Gladney wide open down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, then later hit Jamal Turner for a 25-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. The latter touchdown, by the way, was called by the cheerleaders.
Fyfe finished with one touchdown, a four-yard pass to Taariq Allen to put a cap to an 11-play, 70-yard drive. The former walk on added 44 rushing yards on five totes.
Armstrong’s sole highlight came in the second half when he hit Brandon Reilly in stride for a 51-yard pass play. Reilly made the biggest impact of any of the wideouts in the scrimmage, gaging 92 total yards on four catches.
“He could play a big role this year,” said Armstrong on Reilly. “He’s a really big, physical guy. He can run, he can catch and he can move the ball down the field. That’s the type of player this offense needs.”
Nathan Gerry, Josh Banderas and Anthony Ridder each recorded an interception. After being a nuisance the past few seasons, the offense did not have a single fumble.
Gerry’s takeaway was against Armstrong on just the third play of the game.
“Just one of those plays where I’m sitting in the zone, and I’m kind of reading the quarterback’s eyes. I just knew where Tommy was going to go with it,” said Gerry, whose made the switch from outside linebacker to safety this spring. “Kind of just baiting a little bit — just trying to finish off a great play.”
The defense recorded six sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Former Giltner standout Logan Rath recorded a sack for a loss of six yards.
Former St. Cecilia star Zach Sterup was a starter at offensive tackle.
“I liked our spring, I thought we got a lot accomplished,” said Pelini, putting a wrap on things. “I just told the team that, from here, the work is just begun. We have to continue our development.
“This team has a chance to be good.”