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Nebraska's New Star: Dylan Raiola Shines

Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Trey Palmer (3) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown.
© Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska Cornhuskers competed in their annual spring game at Memorial Stadium, where the White team defeated the Red team 25-21 on Saturday. Coming off a 5-7 season, Cornhusker fans were eager for an early look at this year's team, particularly five-star recruit Dylan Raiola.

What questions were the fans hoping to get answers to? Will Raiola be the starting quarterback in Week 1? Will Nebraska finally overcome the turnover and penalty issues that have plagued them for years? Which position group on offense will be the best? It's time to dig into these questions and more.

Structure of the Nebraska Spring Game

Watching each coach's approach to the spring game to balance competitive football while minimizing serious injuries is fascinating. Head coach Matt Rhule adopted a more aggressive strategy, implementing live tackling for all players except quarterbacks, and this included special teams. With four of Nebraska's seven losses last season by three points or fewer, Rhule is determined to toughen up the team to secure more victories in close games this year.

Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium.
© Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The game featured traditional scoring with four 12-minute quarters and a running clock in the fourth quarter. With some players switching positions, the game primarily showcased the first-team offense against the first-team defense and the second-team offense against the second-team defense.

Unveiled Truths: Dylan Raiola and What Else We Learned

In his previous college football head coaching roles, Rhule led his teams to notable improvements from their first to second years. At Temple, the Owls went from 2-10 in Rhule's first year to 6-6 in his second. Even more impressively, Rhule's Baylor Bears improved from 1-11 to 7-6 in two years.

Can Rhule continue this trend and improve on Nebraska's 5-7 record from last year? The Big Ten Conference has become more competitive with the addition of four former Pac-12 Conference teams, moving the Cornhuskers out of the historically weaker Big Ten West division. As Rhule's second season at Nebraska approaches, we explore key questions and the answers obtained so far.

Is Raiola Ready to Be the Starter?

Nebraska fans knew Raiola, a true freshman, possessed the physical tools to be a successful quarterback in the Big Ten right away, but was he mentally prepared? Based on his performance in the spring game, Raiola will be QB1 when Nebraska plays its first game of the year at home against UTEP. Raiola completed 16-of-22 passes for 239 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, hitting at least 13 different receivers.

What traits do you look for in a high-level quarterback? Arm talent, footwork, reading coverages, movement in the pocket and protecting the ball. Raiola demonstrated all these qualities and is expected to improve with more game-time experience. While there is only one Patrick Mahomes, glimpses of Raiola’s game show he models his play after the Kansas City Chiefs superstar. For instance, on a third-and-10 in the first half, Raiola’s pass to wide receiver Alex Bullock during the fifth series was so well-placed that two defenders who could have intercepted it were unable to reach it.

Will Turnovers, Penalties Continue to Haunt Nebraska?

Nebraska finished second to last in turnover differential among 133 teams in 2023, with only Temple faring worse. This is not a new issue, as they ranked 79th in 2022, 103rd in 2021 and 122nd in 2020. Particularly during the Scott Frost era, watching the end of Cornhuskers games felt like witnessing a predictable train wreck that you had to keep watching despite knowing the end result.

Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Xavier Scott (14) intercepts the ball in front of intended Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Alex Bullock (84).
© Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Given this history, Rhule likely emphasizes ball protection and avoiding mental errors. The offense ended the game with 2 interceptions—one by Raiola and another by freshman quarterback Daniel Kaelin—and Raiola also recovered a fumbled snap. Moreover, several penalties occurred, including false starts and offensive pass interference. Overall, the red and white teams accumulated nine penalties for 73 yards.

While time will determine if Nebraska can overcome issues with penalties and turnovers, these questions cannot be resolved in a spring game setting.

What Position Group Is the Best on Offense?

Coming into the game, offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield was very optimistic about the talent in the wide receiver room and it showed. Let's look at a couple of receivers who stood out:

  • Sophomore Jaylen Lloyd: Lloyd averaged 39.5 yards per catch last year with 6 receptions for 237 yards and 3 touchdowns, demonstrating what Nebraska fans can expect. Known for his speed, Lloyd showcased it on a 64-yard touchdown reception from Raiola. He finished the game with 3 receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown. Unlike typical track stars trying their hand at football, Lloyd excels as a football player who also competes in track.

  • Freshman Jacory Barney Jr.: A three-star recruit from Florida, Barney impressed on offense and special teams. He finished with 3 receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown. On his touchdown reception from junior quarterback Heinrich Haarberg, Barney skillfully adjusted to the ball and secured the catch as he fell into the end zone. He also demonstrated his return skills near the end of the first half with a kickoff return that would have been a touchdown, had he not mistakenly been tackled by the kicker, thinking he was a teammate in a grey uniform.

Another receiver to watch is senior Isaiah Neyor, a transfer from Texas. At 6-foot-3, he made several impressive catches during the game.

Overall, the wide receivers group performed well, particularly with their blocking. Their blocking skills contributed to significant additional yards on several runs and quick passes.

Nebraska Spring Game Nuggets

  • Nebraska was one of only four schools—along with Ohio State, Alabama and Penn State—to attract more than 60,000 fans to their spring game.

  • Five offensive linemen return with 10 or more starts: Bryce Benhart (41), Ben Scott (39), Turner Corcoran (31), Micah Mazzccua (21) and Teddy Prochazka (11).

  • The introduction of helmet communication this year will significantly benefit Nebraska, especially with Raiola expected to start at quarterback. The offensive staff will be able to communicate with him until 15 seconds are left on the play clock.

  • The defense returns eight starters from a unit that ranked 11th nationally last year, allowing only 303 total yards per game.

  • Two players, freshman wide receiver Demitrius Bell and sophomore cornerback Blye Hill, suffered major knee injuries during the game.


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