Nebraska football spring game: 3 things to love and 3 big questions

There was a lot to like in this year's Nebraska football spring game compared to years past. Let the Kool-Aid drinking begin!
There was a lot to like in this year's Nebraska football spring game compared to years past. Let the Kool-Aid drinking begin!
There was a lot to like in this year's Nebraska football spring game compared to years past. Let the Kool-Aid drinking begin! / Steven Branscombe/GettyImages

The White Team defeated the Red Team 25-21 at the Nebraska football spring game on Saturday. But the score wasn't the main story of the day.

It was freshman quarterback Dylan Raiola.

Over 60,000 fans showed up to find out if what we've been hearing was legit. As of on cue, Raiola didn't disappoint.

Here are three things that stood out and three big questions I have heading into the fall season. Let's start with Raiola.

3 things to love from the Nebraska football spring game

There is no QB competition--it's Dylan Raiola's job to lose

Well, I don't know if we should be surprised but Dylan Raiola was everything we hoped he would be. His stat line says it all--16 for 22, 259 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT.

And yet it doesn't say it all. His performance was so much more than his stats.

Raiola's pocket presence and awareness is (as Coach Rhule likes to say) elite. He moves almost as effortlessly as he throws. His field vision is impeccable. He can fit throws into tight windows, like he did on the two-point conversion we all thought was dead to rights.

Is he a carbon copy of Patrick Mahomes? Maybe. Probably. Okay, yes, I think he definitely is.

(I'm not a Chiefs fan, but I'll take it.)

Raiola is far and a away the best quarterback on the Nebraska football team. That's not to take anything away from Heinrich Haarberg or Daniel Kaelin. The both played well. Haarberg especially is much improved.

But this is Raiola's job to lose and it's not remotely close.

Don't put too much weight in how the defense performed

With nearly half of the Nebraska football starting defense out, no starters on the defensive line playing, and QBs wearing green jerseys, this day was never about the defense.

Matt Rhule even told us he wanted a "Red-White Shootout" leading up to the game. Should that also give us some pause about how well Raiola played? Perhaps.

But who's playing defense doesn't change the the fact that Raiola could put the ball on the money in ways no Nebraska quarterback has since Zac Taylor almost two decades ago.

Back to the defense. I loved that even though we mostly saw second and third-teamers, we also saw a defense that flew around, hit hard (when they were allowed), and turned in two interceptions.

And about one of those picks--Raiolas--I'm glad it was intercepted. Did Raiola throw it a bit behind the receiver? Yes. And he owned it in the post game. Good on him. Still, the receiver needs to catch any ball that hits him in his hands.

But how many tipped balls have we seen fall harmlessly to the turf in the last ten years? (HINT: I've lost count.)

It was nice, for a change, to see a defensive back (Ethan Nation, in this case) read, react, and make a big play for his team.

Hopefully, a sign of things to come for the defense.

Nebraska football's receiving corps is athletic and will cause problems for opposing defenses

It was no secret that last year Nebraska's wide receivers struggled. That's mostly due to true freshmen playing because of injury to upperclassmen.

This year's group--with adding in the tight end room--should more than suffice.

I actually really like this group. They're fast, athletic, and played the ball well.

We all know about what Jaylen Lloyd can do. He's one of the fastest receivers in the country, not just the conference. And he knows how to make plays on the ball. He's going to be special.

I was also impressed with Janiran Bonner and Texas transfer addition Isaiah Neyor. Both are big bodies with speed who will be matchup nightmares for smaller cornerbacks. Bonner is technically a fullback, but he lined up wide several times throughout the game.

Neyor (6-3, 215) looks like a future NFL player. After the catch, he just floats across the field. With one season of eligibility, I expect to see a lot of balls thrown his way.

Between Neyor, Bonner, and Fidone, not to mention Malachi Coleman at 6-5, Raiola will have plenty of big targets to find through the air.

3 big questions for Nebraska football going into 2023

Who will emerge as the top running back?

This was not a day to showcase the run game. Matt Rhule told us as much. With two running backs and a few top offensive linemen out, the whole day was about throwing the ball.

The question of who will be Nebraska's go-to back remains even after the spring game. But we saw flashes of hope. And if Huskers fans love anything more than hope, I don't know what it is.

Enter Dante Dowdell. I thought he looked really good. First, he is a load, a powerful back. Not a burner by any stretch, but he showed decent speed on his 49-yard touchdown run. He also showed good hands, catching four passes out of the backfield.

Dowdell doesn't solve all of Nebraska's running game issues. But with his body type and skill-set, he's a guy who can take the punishment a Big Ten schedule brings.

My take is that Emmett Johnson is still the guy who trots out there for the first series against UTEP. But Dowdell puts you at ease as a solid number two or option 1b, doesn't he?

What in the world will happen with Nebraska's kicking game?

Tristan Alvano was lights-out in the state championship football game at Memorial Stadium two years ago, even kicking the game winner from 45-yards out.

Then, he struggled mightily last year as a freshman. There's no way around it. Unfortunately, he picked up where he left off, going 1-3 on a windy day.

If Nebraska is going to play sound defense, limit turnovers, and depend on the "little things" to win games, they must find a kicker who can convert at a decent clip. I want to believe in Alvano. I think he's got the moxie to be a good kicker. And he's still young. My hope is that he has a good summer.

Then there's Brian Buschini. He had just one punt on Saturday. A good 46-yarder that was fair caught. Last year, he was inconsistent game-to-game and within games. Nebraska needs a consistent punter this year if it wants to win close games.

Why? The Big Ten could be called the Premier Punter's League of America. All humor aside, each week Nebraska will likely face one of the best punters in the country.

Punting is just a critical area Nebraska can't miss on this fall.

Will Dylan Raiola elevate more than just the Nebraska offense?

It's obvious Dylan Raiola will make Nebraska's offense better. Will he elevate every area of the team? Can his skill, focus, and execution bring the defense, special teams, game plan, game management, etc., to an elite level?

Raiola hasn't accomplished anything yet. He's just a freshman who's been on campus for four months.

But based purely on talent, you can see he's a generational player. We've seen other generational players elevate their entire team to greatness.

When you only play on one side of the ball like in football, it's harder to do.

No player, especially a freshman, should have to carry that burden. It can be excruciating mentally and emotionally.

But Raiola seems to embrace that role. He seems to thrive under that kind of pressure. I think he came to Nebraska with a unique sense of purpose and mission to usher this program into a new chapter—not back to what it once was, but forward to something this program and fan base hasn't seen before.

Can he do it? Will he? We'll find out in 124 days. The Nebraska football season can't come soon enough.