A revamped Nebraska program under first-year coach Matt Rhule will be on display Saturday for the first time in the Cornhuskers' spring game at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers have suffered through six consecutive losing seasons but have a new source of optimism with the arrival of Rhule, who resurrected Temple and Baylor before an unsuccessful two-and-a-half year stint with the NFL's Carolina Panthers.
Now back in the college game, Rhule enters an evolving Big Ten landscape with the chance to revitalize yet another struggling college program. With just over four months remaining until the season opener at Minnesota on Aug. 31, the spring game could offer some clues as to what the Cornhuskers will be under Rhule's direction.
Rhule said Nebraska plans to play a normal game with elements of the program's real playbook.
"What we're not going to do, a lot of time coaches will say, 'Hey, we're going to keep it vanilla.' Especially in your first time. We're not doing that," Rhule said, per Husker247. "We're going to run our plays on offense and defense. I can certainly understand where maybe we could surprise Minnesota with something. But we got to get good at playing football. So we're going to play. Do what we do and see who plays well."
How to watch Nebraska 2023 spring game live
Date: Saturday, April 22 | Time: 2 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium -- Lincoln, Nebraska
Channel: Big Ten Network | fuboTV (try for free)
2023 Nebraska spring game storylines
1. Quarterback battle: Starting quarterback Casey Thompson returns after throwing for 2,407 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. The former Texas signal-caller completed 63.1% of his passes under the former regime but faces some competition for the job under Rhule. The room's big-name new addition is former Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims, who tossed 30 touchdowns and 23 interceptions during his career in Atlanta. Sims is also an adept runner and could add a dynamic element to the offense. Also in the mix is Chubba Purdy, who struggled when forced into action as the backup last season. The safe bet is on Thompson to win the battle, but Sims is an experienced option who could challenge for QB1.
2. Offensive line concerns: Nebraska's offense is going to struggle regardless of who is at quarterback unless the offensive line can make strides in pass protection. The Cornhuskers ranked 127th nationally last season by allowing pressure on 41.5% of their drop backs. Part of Rhule's significant roster overhaul included landing former four-star offensive tackle Jacob Hood as a transfer from Georgia, along with former Arizona State offensive lineman Ben Scott. It will be hard to judge the unit in full until everyone is available in the fall, but Nebraska fans would surely like to see progress on this front Saturday. In particular, Scott has been working at center in the spring and will be a player to watch in the spring game.
3. Rhule's tone: It will be interesting to hear what tone Rhule strikes during one of his best opportunities to send a message to Nebraska's fans before the 2023 season begins. His first Temple team finished 2-10 in 2013 and his first Baylor team finished 1-11 in 2017; it wasn't until Year 2 in both situations that Rhule's teams reached the postseason. Then, in his third season, both the Owls and Bears broke through for double-digit victories. That track record suggests it would be in Rhule's best interest to keep expectations from spiraling out of control. Undoubtedly, he looks like one of the best hires of the most recent coaching carousel, and the Cornhuskers' fans are starving for success. But Rhule may need to take Saturday's spotlight to remind the fans that getting this program back to prominence will be a process.