LINCOLN — Samori Toure took a look around at the Memorial Stadium crowd and smiled. Saturday was the biggest reminder to the receiver that he made the right decision coming to Nebraska.
The graduate transfer from Montana gave fans reason to be excited, too. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder caught three balls for 47 yards, highlighted by a 27-yard grab over the middle from Adrian Martinez on the game’s first drive. He added a 19-yard snag on the next possession to help set up a field goal.
More than his own performance, though, Toure said he was impressed at the major improvement the receivers collectively showed in the spring. Reps and reps and reps are the only way to get better, he said, and everyone got them as they built chemistry with Martinez and his backups. Now they have the summer to continue their work.
“We’re all getting closer,” Toure said. “I think it’s starting to show on the field and I’m excited for the fall.”
Another recent newcomer, Omar Manning, also impressed Toure. Manning — who made three receptions for 24 yards Saturday — flanked Toure at times Saturday in a matchup that Toure figures will give defenses trouble.
“You can just tell he wants to be great,” Toure said. “I’ve heard things about last year. I don’t know what happened, but from what I’ve seen, Omar wants to be great. And I think he can be.”
Oliver Martin and Will Nixon both caught five balls, as did Brody Belt.
A group of injured players joined roughly 36,000 fans watching the spring game.
Perhaps the big surprise was Pheldarius Payne, a junior defender who moved from defensive line to outside linebacker in the offseason. Another linebacker, Nick Henrich, also stood along the sideline in a jersey without pads.
Inside linebacker Will Honas is out as well, with coach Scott Frost announcing after the game the injury could linger into the fall.
Honas, who chose to return for his sixth season at NU, was injured Wednesday, Frost said. Frost didn’t specify the nature of the injury but The World-Herald learned it was related to his knee.
“Doesn’t look good for Will right now — I don’t want to say anything until we know for sure — but just a kind of a ‘nothing’ play on Wednesday in the last spring practice,” Frost said. “Will’s been just an awesome teammate and, man, I care about him so much. It really hurt me to see him down on the ground on Wednesday. Doesn’t look like he’s going to be ready for the start of the season.”
Most of the Huskers out Saturday were previously known. Among them were veteran defenders: defensive lineman Ben Stille, outside linebacker JoJo Domann and a trio of defensive backs in Javin Wright, Tamon Lynum and Marques Buford.
Headlining those out on offense were transfer running back Markese Stepp, who wore a black brace on his left ankle. Multiple receivers are also sidelined: Alante Brown, Elliott Brown, Broc Douglass and Barron Miles Jr. Reserve offensive lineman Jimmy Fritzsche also was out.
Others not playing included defensive lineman Tate Wildeman, long snappers Camden Witucki and Cade Mueller and reserve outside linebacker Sam Shurtleff.
No hiding message
Turner Corcoran: “Run the damn ball.”
The offensive tackle wore this hat and its statement proudly as he spoke to the media after his first spring game. Corcoran and fellow tackle Bryce Benhart ordered the hats and received them a few days ago.
A member of the media asked Corcoran if his hat was a sign that he wanted to run the ball more.
“I’m not gonna say that,” Corcoran said. “I might get a little backlash. But we love to run the damn ball here.”
Corcoran was Brendan Jaimes’ backup last season. During the spring game, Jaimes was selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the fifth round of the NFL draft, No. 159 overall. Corcoran texted him right after the game to congratulate him.
Corcoran, 6-6 and 300 pounds, started his first game at Nebraska last season against Rutgers and said he has continued to improve since then.
“The start of the spring, I was making freshman mistakes,” Corcoran said. “But as things have come along, I’ve found the game I want to play, the style I want to play and it’s just coming along well for me.”
After working behind Jaimes, who started 40 consecutive games at Nebraska, Corcoran had to find his own style of play and thinks he made a lot of headway this spring.
“It’s just one practice where it just all clicked,” Corcoran said. “It felt better, where I was using independent hands-on my pass blocking and my run blocking.”
High marks for QB
Martinez, who led the Red team to 13 first-half points before sitting in the second half, received high marks from Frost for his play Saturday and throughout spring camp.
Martinez completed 12 of 20 passes for 127 yards and an end-of-half interception. He ran for 49 yards on nine carries, as well.
“He’s had a really good spring and has enough talent to make every kind of play you’d want a quarterback to make,” Frost said. “He’s done a good job of limiting the mistakes this spring. If he can get through games and just be who he is — and not have the three or four bad plays that hurt you — he has a chance to accomplish whatever he wants to.”
Martinez said he had three goals headed into spring camp: Elevating his leadership by “finding a way to encourage our guys and drive our unit,” working on his accuracy and decision-making and improving ball security.
“Turnovers have been a problem,” Martinez said. “It’s definitely been a point of emphasis this spring for us.”
Martinez’s one interception was into a fierce wind at the end of the first half. Frost said he would have done the same thing and added he often didn’t play well in strong winds.
“I’m glad I wasn’t playing quarterback today because you have to throw a tight spiral in that wind to get it to go and mine would have been fluttering over to York County somewhere,” Frost said.
Martinez wouldn’t make any excuses related to the wind.
“It’s windy in Nebraska,” Martinez said. “Gotta find a way to throw the ball.”
Martinez said Toure is “an easy guy to get along with” and “very reliable” as a receiver while Manning has “barely scratched the surface” of his talent.
NU’s No. 1 line had three combinations in the first half: Matt Sichterman playing guard and Benhart playing tackle, Brant Banks playing guard and Benhart playing tackle, and Sichterman playing guard while Banks played tackle.
Tight end Austin Allen said he noticed some jitters from players in the 2020 and 2021 classes, who were playing in front of a significant crowd for the first time. Heck, the four-year veteran felt his heart pumping extra hard after a year without fans. “It was good for them to experience that heartbeat, the raising of the blood pressure,” Allen said.
Center Cam Jurgens said the passion of Nebraska fans was evident from the moment he arrived at the stadium when, at 9 a.m., a random supporter recognized him at the entrance. “He was like, ‘Hey, good morning, Cam. Good luck today!’” Jurgens said. “I’m like, ‘All right, appreciate it.’ They’re excited to be out here and we want to put on a show for them.”