Quarterback battle takes center stage as Red team earns lopsided victory in Husker spring game

Quarterback battle takes center stage as Red team earns lopsided victory in Husker spring game
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — Bob Diaco decided to keep his new 3-4 defense entirely under wraps in Saturday’s spring game. The Husker quarterbacks — and seemingly every tight end on the roster — were beneficiaries.

NU’s top three quarterbacks — Tanner Lee, Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia — each ran for or threw touchdowns in the Red’s 55-7 win. The Red team was stacked with most of the Huskers’ starters while the White team featured mostly backups.

A crowd of 78,312 fans — second-largest in spring game history, trailing only the 2008 game — watched as Lee, in a close competition with O’Brien for the starting job, threw a perfect 30-yard touchdown pass to J.D. Spielman that drew cheers.

It was part of an efficient day for Lee, who threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Stoll in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter — the second half featured a running clock — Lee completed a daring 21-yard pass to Gabe Rahn, again over a defender, that prompted a reaction from the crowd. He then threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Hass.

According to unofficial stats, Lee completed 13 of 19 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns.

O’Brien was less efficient, but, in a two-minute drill just before halftime, he hit running back Mikale Wilbon for a nine-yard score; Wilbon was so open on the swing pass that he jogged into the end zone.

Working against the top defenses, Gebbia — a true freshman early enrollee who’s expected to redshirt and gain weight — might have been as impressive as either quarterback. He led the Whites to its only touchdown drive — a first-half march that culminated in a four-yard touchdown run on a read option. Gebbia threw an interception — right to Husker linebacker Luke Gifford — but otherwise completed 16 of 25 passes for 200 yards with the Whites. He later switched to the Red team for a final drive, throwing an 11-yard touchdown to Hass.

NU’s top defenses — playing in a 4-3 and 4-2-5 alignment, different from most of spring camp — struggled at times in the first half and early in the third quarter to tackle and cover the Huskers’ tight ends. Gifford had the interception; on top of that, he forced and recovered a fumble by freshman wideout Keyshawn Johnson Jr.

Reporters had watched several spring camp practices and scrimmages in which the Huskers worked almost exclusively in a 3-4 alignment. Diaco’s signature defense was absent from the spring game; earlier in the week, he told reporters that opposing teams could just burn the film if they thought they’d glean anything from the spring game.

According to unofficial statistics, Marquel Dismuke (White team) led NU with seven tackles. Antonio Reed had six tackles for the Reds.

Among running backs, Devine Ozigbo led all Huskers with 49 yards rushing. That included a six-yard touchdown. Spielman led all receivers with four catches, 75 yards and a touchdown. Tight ends Tyler Hoppes, David Englehaupt, Matt Snyder and Jack Stoll all had catches.

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