For the third year in a row, Nebraska faces a team from the Sun Belt Conference. Hopefully, Mother Nature allows the Cornhuskers’ first game of the season to go off without a hitch, unlike last year’s rainout versus Akron.
The Big Red’s second straight 4-8 year had most college football fans laughing, and understandably so. Nebraska got off to the worst start in school history at 0-6. However, Scott Frost’s culture eventually took hold, and the Huskers finished the season with a respectable 4-2 record in their last six games, showing progress.
Frost remains unwavering in his belief that his program is ready for a major step forward, and he embraces the high expectations being thrust upon his team.
Meanwhile, South Alabama isn’t expected to do much in 2019, and it’s easy to see why. The Jaguars were near the bottom of the FBS in rushing, passing and scoring offense last season, and on defense, they were even worse. There are only nine starters returning, but it seems like the only way to go is up.
These teams have faced each other once before, with Nebraska defeating South Alabama 49-3 in 2015.
South Alabama vs. Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Nebraska -36
When South Alabama Has the Ball
The Jaguars will be breaking in a new quarterback for the sixth straight season. Cephus Johnson has the size of a quality quarterback (6-5, 255 pounds), but his experience is lacking.
Nebraska’s defensive line gets an early opportunity to see how much they’ve improved as three South Alabama offensive linemen are coming back. Running back Tra Minter give the Huskers someone to gun for in the backfield aside from Johnson as well. Look for slot receiver Kawaan Baker to spell him and give the Jaguars some speed in an effort to spread out the Big Red’s front seven.
Minter led the Sun Belt with a school-record 1,803 all-purpose yards in 2018, while Baker tied a school record with 13 total touchdowns. Experience dips heavily when they leave the field.
Not only will South Alabama be going against a massive front in Nebraska’s, but the Huskers also have depth they not seen in a while. Interior linebacker Mohamed Barry is to the Blackshirts what Adrian Martinez is to the offense.
Johnson has to be careful when testing the Husker secondary, as they’ve developed into physical players and opportunistic ballhawks. Some special teams trickeration shouldn’t be ruled out.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Quarterback Adrian Martinez should look sharp as ever, and Maurice Washington can do a significant amount of damage even with 10-15 snaps per game. This is assuming he plays given current legal troubles, and as of this writing, Frost hasn’t given any indication he won’t.
The running back corps also features a more physical back in junior college transfer Dedrick Mills, and a true freshman speedster in Rahmir Johnson. While not a traditional back, the hyped Wan’Dale Robinson will also see time next to Martinez.
Nebraska fans should see a plethora of wide receivers get an opportunity to step up as offensive coordinator Troy Walters wants six or seven ready to contribute. JD Spielman, California transfer Kanawai Noa and Robinson are at the top of the totem pole. Expect Kade Warner to pick up where he left off, Andre Hunt to be more effective and Mike Williams to bring his physicality to the table.
The tight end room is thick with talent. Don’t be surprised to see Jack Stoll, Austin Allen, Kurt Rafdal and Katerian Legrone all get opportunities.
Nebraska’s offensive line badly needs to establish the center position, as it can make or break Frost’s offense almost as much as a quarterback. Fortunately, they’ll have an excellent opportunity against South Alabama defensive coordinator Greg Stewart’s 3-4 scheme. Cameron Jurgens officially got the nod to start the Huskers’ kickoff last week while the rest of the line goes against a front seven that returns only two starters.
This is the type of game any Power 5 program looking for a successful season should schedule for its first contest. South Alabama isn’t equipped to handle the talent, speed or strength of Nebraska.
In what is essentially a glorified scrimmage, this game will largely be about the Huskers knocking the rust off and preparing for next week’s tilt at Colorado. The final score may not be quite the bloodbath many are expecting, as Frost will no doubt want to give his starters a rest and avoid injury before taking on the Buffaloes.
That said, if Nebraska is chalking up quick scoring drives early, this encounter could be wrapped up in extremely short order.