The Nebraska Cornhuskers kick their season off versus the South Alabama Jaguars nice and early at 11:00 a.m. local time. As Big Red fans shrug sleep off, they'll be primarily focused on watching their team likely pummel South Alabama. That's not all they should be keeping an eye out for, though.
Much as is the case with any game, there is a litany of plot lines to watch which will not only tell the tale of how this game will go but several down the line. Here are five things that not only define how well Nebraska does versus the Jaguars but perhaps for the remainder of the season.
1. Maurice Washington's backfield mates
Regardless of how much Washington plays (if he plays), he's not an every-down back and considering his talents, he doesn't have to be. However, no running back can go for 80 plays and Scott Frost wants to mix up what he throws at opposing defenses.
Assistant coach Ryan Held has done everything to ensure Washington can be properly spelled. Dedrick Mills earned an – OR – by Washington's name on the depth chart after having a fantastic freshman season with Georgia Tech before tearing up the JUCO circuit. Local favorite Wyatt Mazour is listed on the same secondary tier as is true freshman speedster Rahmir Johnson.
Expect to see all of these players on Saturday and perhaps an appearance by Brody Belt.
2. Setting the table at wide receiver
Offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Troy Walters needs depth which means a good six or seven young men have to fill these spots. He has three that are givens in JD Spielman, Kanawai Noa and Wan'Dale Robinson.
Javeon McQuitty clearly had the fall camp he needed taking the No. 2 spot behind Spielman while Mike Williams looks to battle Noa for snaps. That's an underrated position battle, by the way. Miles Jones and Kade Warner sit behind Robinson and each provides something different. Jones is a shiftier player while Warner is a blocking champion and has extremely reliable hands.
The odd man out appears to be Jaron Woodyard even though he and McQuitty share a secondary spot. Woodyard just hasn't had enough moments where everything's clicked yet. Regardless, Walters should have a firm two-deep ready for Colorado.
3. Jahkeem Green's role
One player absent from Monday's depth chart was Green. That's somewhat understandable as the junior college transfer came into the program later than usual. However, Green looks to be in tremendous shape and it'd be somewhat surprising if defensive coordinator Erik Chinander didn't take advantage of the 6-foot-5, 315-pound defensive tackle in a few unique sets when it's time to go live.
Darrion Daniels talked about defensive line assistant coach Tony Tuioti working with his charges to provide different looks and that could be where Green shines. We'll no doubt get a little bit of everything on Saturday versus South Alabama. Don't be surprised to see No. 4 on the defensive side get plenty of work in.
4. Which linebackers make a statement
If there's an area of concern on defense, it'd be across the board at linebacker. Interior depth is rather thin with Mohamed Barry, of course, being the bad man that he is. Redshirt freshman Joseph Johnson backs him up, but it's clear that No. 7 needs to stay healthy for the Blackshirts to provide the most punch. Collin Miller has clearly thrived at the position as he's listed on even footing with Will Honas opposite Barry.
On the outside, Alex Davis will get his shot and it appears Caleb Tannor will be splitting time with Jojo Domann. Tyrin Ferguson is likely to spell Davis if needed, but keep an eye out for in-state product Garrett Nelson. As a true freshman, he'll make some mistakes, but he plays extraordinarily physical and like his hair's lit ablaze.
Again, this game provides a perfect opportunity to see who needs to knock some rust off and who's still on roller skates. That's definitely something Frost will want to sort out before taking on the dynamic Laviska Shenault Jr. and Colorado next week.
5. Vedral vs. McCaffrey
Assuming this game is in hand by halftime — not a grand assumption to make — Frost is eventually going to opt for this battle to break out. Nebraska's in a much better way in terms of quarterback depth than they were in 2018 already thanks to Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey.
While Vedral did get the nod as the official No. 2 on this week’s depth chart, it's hard to imagine that these two won't be competing to back up Adrian Martinez as much as they can. McCaffrey obviously needs to make the most of his opportunities considering he has all of four games to participate in before his redshirt is burned.
Even if McCaffrey stays at No. 3, while neither he nor Vedral matches Martinez's skills (few in the nation do), they're both competent enough to run the offense well. If the Huskers are coasting come halftime, it wouldn't be a shock to see each of these guys get a quarter a piece to show their stuff.