“What part of not holding don't you understand?”
That's Bo Pelini, man on the mic. Saturday at Memorial Stadium, he didn't call any brilliant blitzes. He didn't deliver any inspiring locker room speeches. But Nebraska's sixth-year coach had a very good day.
He took an opportunity from the Big Ten Network and helped turn it into a two-hour commercial for Husker football. In the process, he made potentially one of the most boring spring games in history — lots of injured players, no new schemes, a fourth-year starting quarterback, etc. — borderline entertaining.
Traditionally, the spring game is fodder for those inside Memorial Stadium. The die-hards. It's their chance to get an offseason football fix.
This year, NU branched out. Tweaked the target audience. Modified the message. For only the second time ever — and first since 2007 — Nebraska presented its product to a national TV audience. That meant appealing to viewers who didn't know Ron Kellogg from Clark Kellogg. That meant showing off Husker football to people who didn't necessarily root for it.
I wanted the TV perspective. So I stayed home Saturday and imagined watching from somewhere like Michigan or Illinois or Texas.
On the first snap, a walk-on quarterback handed off to a walk-on tailback. Oh boy, this was going to be a long afternoon.
From a performance standpoint, it was. Nebraska revealed nothing and nobody that will keep Urban Meyer awake at night. But even Urban would've gotten a kick out of the presentation.
With 2:36 left in the first quarter, the Huskers gathered at midfield for a “Find a way to win” drill. Defensive end Jack Gangwish drew the short straw. Facing a 15-second timer, he was charged with fighting off two blockers, corralling a moving ball carrier and tackling him. It looked like a fourth-grade recess version of hazing.
It turned out to be a blast. Especially with Pelini mic'd up. After the two blockers — linebacker Brad Simpson and safety Wil Richards — put a whupping on Gangwish, Pelini dropped this gem:
“Hey Wil Richards, what part of not holding don't you understand?”
Moments later, after Max Pirman slammed fellow linebacker Michael Rose to the turf, Pelini repeated the line, with a little more fire.
In the past, Pelini has resisted a televised spring game, presumably because it helps opponents scout the Huskers. The irony is, nobody in Memorial Stadium on Saturday came off looking better than Bo.
Yes, he found time to give linebacker Colby Starkebaum a tongue-lashing on the sideline. But the creative script — and the microphone — gave BTN viewers access to a more fun and friendly Pelini, a coach who didn't quite fit the fire-breathing stereotype.
|HOFFMAN STARS AT SPRING GAME|
|Click to read more about 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman's star turn at the Husker spring game.|
Before kickoff, he greeted offensive lineman Andrew Rodriguez with the most basic instruction — “Tuck your shirt in.”
He hugged ex-Husker Steve Warren: “Hey, what's up, big daddy? How are ya, man? You look like you could still play. You wanna come play today?
Warren's response: “Hell no.”
He made small talk with Tom Osborne.
“Little better weather,” Osborne said, referencing last year's spring game cancellation.
“No tornadoes in the area,” Bo replied. “We're good.”
I would've loved to hear more from Pelini's microphone. But even without it, the Huskers broke up the monotony. In the second quarter, offensive linemen got their turn in the spotlight.
“Let's see if these guys can catch some punts,” Pelini would say on the mic.
Bo's nephew, Mark, needs a little more practice after fumbling, then kicking the ball in frustration.
In the old days, when coaches treated the spring game more like a game than a practice, fans didn't need diversions to stay focused. Now they're the only way to go.
I hope future editions, televised or not, take a page from 2013. Give me a relay race — wide receivers versus cornerbacks. Let me see which quarterback can hit the crossbar from the 40-yard line. Show me which Husker does the best Pelini impression.
You can design 100 skits, though, and not find one as good as Jack Hoffman's 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. When both red and white teams chased him to the end zone and joined in the celebration, you didn't have to know the story — a 7-year-old fighting brain cancer — to appreciate the moment.
As Jack carried the football to the sideline, Pelini pulled off his headset and bent down to look the kid in the eye. You didn't need his microphone to hear what he said.
“How awesome was that.”
Contact the writer:
402-649-1461, email@example.com, twitter.com/dirkchatelain
* * *
• Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini:
• Video: NU's Taylor Martinez:
• Video: NU's C.J. Zimmerer:
• Video: Sights and sounds from Memorial Stadium:
• Video: Spring game time lapse at Memorial Stadium:
• Video: Jack Hoffman runs for a 69-yard touchdown: