uskers head coach Matt Rhule walks out of a huddle during their game against the Michigan Wolverines during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska Football Spring Game Preview: Storylines to Watch

On Saturday, Memorial Stadium will be packed for a scrimmage as the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team will conclude its spring season. After a disappointing 5-7 season in 2023, the Huskers have reloaded with a good offseason, landing a top-20 recruiting class and a few key pickups in the transfer portal. The Nebraska faithful will flock to the stadium that dominates the downtown skyline in Lincoln to see their Huskers play and the newcomers get a sneak peek of what it is like on Saturdays in fall at Nebraska. Here are storylines to watch during the spring game on Saturday.

Nebraska Football Spring Game Preview: Storylines to Watch

The Quarterbacks

Well, it should be no surprise that this is the main headline for the spring game. If you had paid attention to the recruiting news back in December 2023, you would have seen that one of the top quarterbacks in the 2024 recruiting class had committed to Nebraska, which was where his dad went to college and dominated on the offensive line in the late 90s. That player would be Dylan Raiola, who flipped his commitment from the Georgia Bulldogs to the Huskers on December 18th. With how much traction that Nebraska gets in the media and among the college football landscape, there should be no surprise that the hype is real for the Nebraska faithful. Throughout the spring season, Raiola has put himself in a good spot to start in the fall. However, the other two scholarship quarterbacks are on the roster.

The other freshman quarterback, Daniel Kaelin has shown many things to be excited about for the future of the position. Kaelin was originally a quarterback committed to the Missouri Tigers, but when Nebraska originally fell out of the recruiting race for Raiola this past summer, Kaelin committed to Nebraska. Then Nebraska flipped Raiola from the Bulldogs and Kaelin easily could have looked elsewhere for college football. However, he decided to keep his commitment to the Huskers. On Saturday, everyone in attendance will get a chance to see what Kaelin could bring to Nebraska, even as a potential redshirt this fall.

Coach Matt Rhule has spoken this spring on the improvement of junior quarterback Heinrich Haarberg. Haarberg started the most games out of three different starters last season. Last season, Haarberg was thrown into the fire after the injury of Jeff Sims and he had decent production in 10 games. Haarberg along with the other starters in 2023 had turnover issues with both fumbles and interceptions. Despite this, it is great to hear that Haarberg has improved this spring and on top of this, has been a mentor-like figure to Kaelin and Raiola. Saturday’s spring game will be a terrific opportunity for not only Kaelin and Raiola to show off what they could bring, but for Haarberg to show his improvement from just last season.

How can the defense build off of last season?

As you probably remember, the Huskers finished 2023 with a top-15 total defense, which led to the success that Nebraska had at times last season. The Huskers lost some production from last season, especially from linebacker Luke Reimer and cornerback Quinton Newsome, who both could potentially be NFL draft picks this weekend. This offseason, Nebraska has been able to replace the loss of production with players like transfer linebacker Stefon Thompson, transfer defensive back Blye Hill, freshman linebacker Vincent Shavers among others. The Huskers will benefit with players returning like sophomore edge rusher Cameron Lenhardt, sophomore linebacker Princewill Umanmeilen, junior defensive lineman Elijah Jeudy and senior defensive linemen Ty Robinson and Nash Hutmacher. However, there is a chance that the defense regresses just a bit. It will be hard to replicate what they did last season. With defensive coordinator Tony White returning for at least one more season, the Blackshirts are still slated to be a top defense in at least in the Big Ten, if not the country.

Running back and wide receiver talent

The running back and wide receiver position groups were wrecked by injuries in 2023. Coach Rhule and his staff were able to make the depth chart a bit deeper for 2024 for both positions by landing multiple transfer portal commitments.

Running Backs

Sophomore running back transfer Dante Dowdell (Oregon) was brought in to play alongside current players on the roster like junior Gabe Ervin Jr, sophomore Emmett Johnson and senior Rahmir Johnson. Dowdell was a bell cow back for the Picayune High School in Mississippi where he rushed for 5,301 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons. Dowdell, unfortunately, used up one year of eligibility last season in Eugene but will have three more years of eligibility in Lincoln. He is a bigger back and will be someone that Nebraska will use this fall and will be someone to watch alongside the other running backs on Saturday.

Wide Receivers

The wide receiver position group is one of the deepest positions on the offensive side of the ball. Due to injuries to key veteran receivers in 2023, both then freshmen wide receivers Malachi Coleman and Jaylen Lloyd really stepped up in a big way. Both were able to get decent production in the few games they started in. Even with them, players like redshirt freshman Demitrius Bell and redshirt freshman Jaidyn Doss will get chances to shine on Saturday and this fall. There were also two wide receiver transfer portal commitments with senior Texas transfer Isaiah Neyor and senior Wake Forest transfer Jahmal Banks. They join the other veteran receivers on the roster with seniors Isiah Garcia-Castaneda and Alex Bullock. Whoever starts at quarterback in the fall will have plenty of playmakers to throw to.

Official visitors

There will be seven official visitors on Saturday. The highest-ranked visitor will be five-star athlete Michael Terry III out of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Texas. For Alamo Heights, Terry III played wide receiver, running back and played on defense. The second-highest visitor will be four-star quarterback TJ Lateef out of Orange Lutheran High School in Orange, California. As an athlete, Lateef fits the system and seemingly doesn’t care that Nebraska has a former five-star freshman at the position. If things go well, a commitment to the Huskers could come soon. The next highest-ranked prospect visiting is four-star inside offensive lineman Alai Kalaniuvalu out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nebraska landed a commitment from Kalaniuvalu’s teammate Alexander Ruggeroli in the 2024 class and has a chance to land another commitment from a player out of Bishop Gorman. Offensive line coach Donovan Raiola and the rest of the staff will have to make a good impression as Nebraska acts as Kalaniuvalu’s first of many visits. However, this is nothing new for the coaching staff and they have a track record of doing well. The last four-star prospect visiting is Cortez Mills, a wide receiver out of Homestead High School in Homestead, Florida near Miami. This will be Mills’ second time in Lincoln and he has been a target for wide receivers coach Garrett McGuire and coach Rhule for a few cycles now. The Miami Hurricanes will be Nebraska’s biggest competitor for Mills’ talents but the Huskers are well in the race for his talents and have done well in the region.

There will be three three-star prospects in attendance as well. Those being offensive tackle John Mills, safety Antonio Branch Jr and wide receiver Emmanuel Choice. Starting with Mills, he is out of St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, California. The 6-6, 320-pound offensive tackle went on an unofficial visit in Lincoln early this spring and said that he liked what he saw while watching practice. Nebraska should be able to make a good impression as Mills will go on visits to USC, Florida, Texas and Cal later this spring. Branch Jr is another top target out of the Miami area, more specifically out of Northwestern High School. The safety is one of the Huskers’ top targets to help build up the back end of the secondary for the future. Choice is out of Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Texas and is a big-bodied receiver at 6-4. He will get a chance to see what a player that is similar to his size role is on the Nebraska offense on Saturday. Lincoln will be one of Choice’s first stops this spring as he has official visits to Missouri, Oklahoma, TCU and USC.

Main Image: © Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

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