LINCOLN — Nebraska's annual homage to the Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals played out to a mostly satisfying conclusion for the 54,000-plus Cornhusker fans who turned out for Saturday's Red-White spring game.
The Red team, comprised mostly of first-teamers, dominated the White squad 38-0 as Husker Nation got its first extended look at what Bill Callahan's crew might have in store for 2007. While there were plenty of subplots, the featured storyline was quarterback Sam Keller, the Arizona State transfer, who since stepping on campus last August, has been tasked with making sure Nebraska's rebuilding project doesn't suffer a significant setback.
While the White defense certainly couldn't pose the same challenges that will be offered by USC and Texas, Keller still managed to impress. The senior-to-be finished 10-of-13 passing for 193 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, looks to have a firm grasp on Nebraska's West Coast offense.
At the same time, the idea of a quarterback competition between Keller and Joe Ganz stretching well into fall camp might not be as far-fetched as once thought. Keller has the game experience and the credentials, but the gritty Ganz knows the offense inside and out and appears to be — at the very least — a more-than-capable backup.
Ganz finished 11-of-18 passing for 157 yards and a TD to go with a 10-yard scramble for a score.
Predictably, Nebraska's coaches claimed to see no signs of separation between the two.
"You don't have a chance to really assess that until you watch it and sit back and look at it," Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "I thought both of them played well today. It came out the way I thought it would. They both have done a really nice job of running the offense."
With several potential recruits on hand and the game being aired later Saturday night via tape delay on the NFL Network, everyone realizes that these Callahan spring flings are all about putting on a good show. The final results come as no surprise to anyone.
"It's the ones versus the rest and I think anybody would look at it and say it was going to be a dominating performance on both sides of the ball," Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said. "I think the main thing is that a lot of kids played. They had a lot of fun out there and we came out of it healthy (on defense). That's what's most important."
Callahan said that with injuries, scholarship limitations and the fact that many of the new recruits won't arrive until this summer, his hands are somewhat tied. The idea of No. 1s going against No. 1s isn't feasible, he said.
"I think that's the nature of college football," Callahan said. "There's that natural falloff. We have some young players who are still learning the game and still trying to get better.
"It's pretty hard in this day and age of 85 scholarships to go out there and do what we did today. There are a number of schools that can't even scrimmage because they don't have enough linemen, so we're fortunate that we have the numbers that we do."
Taking into account the uneven playing field, making any concrete conclusions is risky at best. With that in mind, here are some knee-jerk observations:
& Credit the quarterbacks, but the receiving corps looked pretty good at times, especially Maurice Purify and Todd Peterson. However, there were still way too many dropped balls.
& Junior college transfer safety Larry Asante will hit you. "Larry likes football," Cosgrove said. "I'm eager to watch him when he's fully healthy and has a complete understanding of what we're doing defensively."
& The game lasted one quarter too long, especially if I-back Marlon Lucky's knee injury turns out to be serious. If not for Nebraska's lack of depth at running back, it's difficult to imagine why he'd still be in the glorified scrimmage with 12:36 remaining.
& The special teams units still need work. Special attention should be placed on kickoff coverage and punt returns this fall.
& Could it be that Nebraska's spring game is losing a little zip with some Husker fans? Sure, the NFL Network was offering a tape-delayed broadcast of the game, but it was a bit surprising to see attendance dip below 60,000 on a fairly pleasant day, especially given all the interest in Keller.
& Finally, if the defensive line develops and Keller is as good as advertised, Nebraska could be the pick to again win the Big 12 North. Whether the Huskers can potentially make that jump to the next level — a BCS bowl bid — remains too close to call.
Terry Douglass is sports editor of The Independent.