LINCOLN — The weather was perfect. So were the historic Husker rosters.
And while the coronavirus pandemic made sure the Nebraska football team wasn’t able to hold its regular spring game — one of the rites of spring and one of the most popular games of college football — its virtual online video game on Saturday still drew, at its peak viewership, roughly 25,000 fans Saturday afternoon from Facebook, Twitch and Twitter channels.
The bulk of NU fans watched the White team, quarterbacked by Eric Crouch, stun the Red team, quarterbacked by Tommie Frazier, in a 63-60 overtime thriller in which Crouch orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback and Frazier, after a day of superb play, made his lone mistake in overtime when White team cornerback Fabian Washington picked off a jump pass.
With regular Husker Sports Network announcers Greg Sharpe and Matt Davison calling the action and cracking the occasional joke — Sharpe mentioned digital players on the sideline were practicing social distancing — Frazier, probably the game’s MVP, racked up more than 450 total yards and staked the Red to a 57-41 lead after a touchdown pass to Kenny Bell late in the fourth quarter.
A costly missed extra point by kicker Kris Brown, though, left the door open for Crouch’s comeback.
The Heisman Trophy winner delivered, much like the 2000 Notre Dame and Colorado games, with key plays in the final minutes. So did another Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Rodgers, who caught the White team’s final touchdown and the game-tying 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime. The Red team chose to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter despite having roughly 30 seconds and three timeouts remaining.
Once in the extra period, the White won the game on a field goal by Alex Henery. One play later, Frazier threw the interception, and the White team had pulled off the comeback. The second half of the virtual game was apparently played by mystery gamers Cam Taylor-Britt (White) and Wan’Dale Robinson (Red), who appeared briefly after Sharpe and Davison concluded the roughly two-hour broadcast.
The game featured legends from Husker history. Crouch finished with more than 500 yards of total offense — including a whopping 404 yards passing in regulation — and actively participated on Twitter as the livestream happened. Crouch thanked Nebraska, Davison and Sharpe for being a part of the event.
“In times of adversity we all pulled through! Looking forward to 2020 season,” Crouch wrote on Twitter.
During the pregame festivities, former Nebraska defensive tackle Steve Warren sang the national anthem while 21 members of the Cornhusker Marching Band, sequestered in their homes, belted out “There is No Place Like Nebraska.” NU cheerleaders conducted the Husker Power chant from decks and living rooms before the Tunnel Walk took place, as usual, with a “United We Stand” banner on the Kearney Arch.
At halftime, NU replayed the memorable Jack Hoffman touchdown run from the 2013 spring game, had its usual drug-free pledge with former Husker and NFL hall of famer Will Shields, held an in-memoriam segment for former Nebraska players who’d died since last April, and conduced a lengthy interview with coach Tom Osborne regarding the 1995 spring, which featured a lot of passing because of quarterbacks Frazier, Brook Berringer, Scott Frost, Matt Turman and Ryan Held.
Frost, wearing No. 19, was part of the highlight package from the 1995 spring game, as was Held.
At the end of the interview, Osborne thanked Husker fans watching at home.
“We’ve maintained that sellout streak since 1962,” Osborne said. “You folks have been really critical and instrumental ... our fan base has probably been second to none. We just can’t thank you enough for your loyalty.”
» There was precious little traditional option football in the game. Plenty of read options with Frazier and Crouch, but more drop-back passing and I-back handoffs than anything else. The quarterbacks — and their receivers — ruled the day.
» Barrett Ruud — on the Red team — appeared to top the tackle chart with nearly 20.
» In the battle of Nos. 30s, Ahman Green had the better day than Mike Rozier. Green had 154 yards rushing and 80 yards receiving while Rozier had three touchdowns but just 64 yards rushing.
» Although NU released its historical rosters during the week, a few extra players at tight end, wide receiver and defensive back made it into the game, such as Johnny Mitchell, Kyler Reed, Walter Monds and Barron Miles.
» Crouch was the most active of the ex-Huskers on Twitter, but receiver Stanley Morgan and cornerback Prince Amukamara were also active, among other ex-Huskers.