Defense wins spring game on last-second interception

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LINCOLN – The Husker defense defeated the offense Saturday 46-41 on a last-second interception by Kyle Kasun.

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. rushed for 120 yards on six carries and a touchdown. He completed eight of 15 passes for 33 yards.

Freshman Patrick O’Brien threw the games only interception on the final play picked off by Kasun.

Below is a collection of postgame quotes courtesy of Nebraska Athletics:

Coach Mike Riley
On how he felt the team finished off the spring

"I liked it. I thought that today was a good day to finish it like this. Everybody got to play as the thing went on. As a matter of fact, Kyle Kasun made the play at the end. We have on-campus tryouts for people who are on campus that want to just come and work out. Not long ago he was one of those guys. He was the one guy we picked from that tryout and of course he makes a lifetime memory play for him. He’s a really good kid and he looked good in the tryout. That’s kind of what this thing can be for. In the second half there were some guys who played who have a chance to elevate into a position to play and getting to play in front of our great crowd is a good thing. I thought there was pretty good give and take between the offense and defense in the first half. That was the first time we ever used that scoring system and it was pretty equitable, I think it worked out OK and so we might do that in the future. It’s a lot easier to try and orchestrate that way instead of trying to divide into two teams. That part of it was good. The football part… there’s going to be stuff like there’s after every practice where we just kind of say we need to do this or that better. We kind of sputtered around at times and then we looked pretty crisp at times with Ryker (Fyfe) and Tommy (Armstrong) with the groups they had. Defensively, there weren’t a lot of big plays and we were pretty sound all around. We must have had a ton of plays total so that was good."

On Greg McMullen
"Greg McMullen has decided he is finishing his degree and he has already been accepted and granted an assistantship to graduate school and he is going to work with youth in our area. Since he’s got his degree, he wants to go on with his life. He has made a decision not to play football anymore and that obviously means an opportunity to play after this. He has really got a vision about where he wants to go and what he wants to do and I’m really proud of him in a lot of ways for what he has done for this school and team. Now going forward we will miss him as a guy around here, a really good person and a football player so it’s kind of bittersweet for sure. He’s got a plan and this is what he wants to do. Also, Kevin Williams is not going to be on our team. He is choosing a different opportunity to play as a graduate transfer somewhere. I don’t know where or what he is thinking but he is looking for a different opportunity in the scheme of things to find his spot to play."

On the defensive line
"That’s a really good follow-up question. It’s obviously not easy to lose four defensive tackles that all had eligibility to come back when you go back to Maliek (Collins) and Vincent (Valentine) and now Greg (McMullen) and Kevin (Williams). You can’t hide from that but I’m going to look at it half full. I’m really excited about the guys we have coming back. Kevin Maurice is a really good player and we are looking forward to what he can do. And the other guy that played for us last year that has been good and I’m really excited about his development is Mick Stoltenberg. He had the injury in bowl practice and he will be recovered and ready to go. Mick is big and strong and very anxious to play. We will have him back and we have the Davis twins who are doing this every day. It’ll be exciting to see them and we’ve had other guys surface, I don’t want to leave anybody out, one guy’s for sure that is improving is Peyton Newell. That’s five guys right there and I think that this group is a great group, they work hard and I think Coach Parrella will bring them along. We will be absolutely fine and we might be better than fine as this thing goes."

On Greg McMullen’s leave of absence
"Part of it was at that time when I said he was going to take some time off and he was getting a little overwhelmed with school as he was getting ready to graduate and getting into graduate school I did not anticipate that that would end up with him deciding not to play. I think he thought it all through in a Greg McMullen type fashion and he decided this is where he wants to go with his life right now. He accomplished this, he got his degree, he’s in grad school, he’s going to work with kids and that’s where he wants to go and that’s good."

On the offensive line
"I didn’t know the last time I talked to you guys that Dylan Utter wasn’t going to play today. We got in a situation where Michael Decker was going to start for us today and Zach Hannon being the backup and those were about the only two centers we had for today. I think he hung in there and did fine. I’m real excited about him as he develops for the future and the same as a lot of our freshmen offensive linemen that we have. We also will have a pretty good idea of our starters heading into fall camp and we will also have a pretty good idea of who can be our backups going into the game."

On Paul Thurston
"He was unavailable today and he’s probably going to be a guy who is looking at the depth chart and wanting to play more and he might be looking at another place. He only practiced four days with us this spring. There was one class he had to take to graduate so in doing that he was basically unavailable for spring ball for all but four days so he opted out at the end so I’m pretty sure he is not going to be with us. He has asked for a scholarship release and we will talk about it more next week but I would say that is pretty much final and he is going to go somewhere else. I think he like Kevin (Williams) they look at the depth chart and see their senior year and they’re looking for opportunities."

On Tommy Armstrong in the running game
"It’s pretty obvious to me that the combination of where we have to be is with our tailback runner and our receivers more involved in the fly sweep game or the reverse game. We actually called two reverses today where we didn’t hand the ball back around. If we can get our receivers involved and then the weapon that Tommy (Armstrong) is as a runner with the bootleg stuff or play action stuff. This vision going forward looks pretty good and I’m excited about it. I think we need to find that drop back pass stuff that we have to do. There are situations where you have to do some of it and we have to keep getting better at it. Some of it looks OK and some of it we aren’t quite there with it. I thought in general choices and reads were good and with the exception of a couple of missed plays, we dropped a couple of balls, overthrew a couple of passes and those changed the execution of what it might have looked like. I am encouraged though."

On the success of the draw plays
"I hope that that is true that our draw game is coming around. Today there were some nice plays like that. We haven’t had that with the quarterback much but we’ve been a good tailback draw team. It was nice to see that come alive right off the bat and we’ve been working our single back draw, we’ve got to get that going and the quarterback draw with our quarterbacks is a viable option. If we can get that going and elevate our screen game a little, we’ve now got a chance through fall camp to have a nice variety. In general it’s kind of exciting to me and the next phase for us is we work on it alot but we’ve got to get better in the screeen game."

On the run game
"I think we really have a better idea of these runs are going to work for us. In fact we made decisions right in the middle of practice to focus on this thing and put this on the back burner for now. Those are good decisions to be able to make to say let’s become this, this is who we can be. Those decisions are in progress as we speak and we’ve already made some of those. I think it’s really important to continue to do that."

On how he feels now compared to the beginning of spring ball
"I feel much more confident now that I’ve been able to watch the spring practices and even seeing them come out here now today and do it surrounded by a freshman center. I’m encouraged by this group. I think we have some definition as to who the guys are that are going to start. I think we have a good chance to be able to define our backups and feel good about the two-deep. I’m looking forward to the next phase. I think the offseason program, take a guy like Michael Decker, Christian Gaylord another four months of weight room work will be really good for them. I think they’re going to be good players and that is the natural thing you have to do to be a good player is to get faster and stronger. I think offensive linemen are the guys that need the most learning and the most development physically. I think athletically those guys have a real shot and I think they do with tenacity and intelligence. I think we can give those guys a real shot to be elevated to the point where they are really viable backup players."

On turnovers
"I think that the obvious goals for this team when you look at our rankings in the Big Ten Conference is that we can not turn the ball over like we did but we have to get some. But for what we did today I was glad that we didn’t turn the ball over and we’ll have to talk about the next part. It’s obvious when you are practicing and playing against each other you aren’t going to be happy both ways."

On the backup quarterback play
"I think that Ryker’s group was matched up a lot against the one defense so I think it became hard for that group at times. I thought he hung in there well. Ryker has some really good strengths. I think you see it when you see his quick release. The stuff that he does in that intermediate passing game and when you add a little play action to it, I think he’s outstanding. I think you saw some real sharp throws and some good movement and he was doing it often against the first string defense so it was hard sledding. Then when he went in and that group went in against the next group it gave an even clearer depiction of what he can do. The other two guys have showed really good signs and you saw that today. You saw A.J. Bush and Patrick O’Brien make some really good plays. When he throws that five route to the outside part of the field, that’s a big time throw and he put that right on the money. But then he made some mistakes. But he’s a freshman and he should still be going to the prom tonight. I am excited about him and I’m excited about the improvement of A.J. and I think by the time we go through fall camp we will be in a very good situation. Right away we will add Tanner Lee so that picture down the road is a good one in my mind."

Nebraska Football
Spring Game
Postgame Quotes

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.
On the game overall
"I thought it went well. Run game went well, pass game could’ve been a little bit better. A few drops here and there, a few over throws. We didn’t play to win as well as I wanted to personally, quarterback as a whole. I think we didn’t play to win as well as we thought we could, but in certain situations you gotta be able to judge the wind the right way, deliver the ball on time and get the ball in the guy’s hands. We had a few guys that were open but we were overthrowing or underthrowing in certain aspects, the ball is behind them. Coach W always says we gotta make catches but we also gotta make throws. At the end of the day, offensive-wise run game went well, had times here and there where we missed the hole but other than that in the backfield I think we did a great job of making those plays and our offensive line did a great job of getting those guys open enough for us to make thsoe plays."

On his long touchdown run
"I was tired honestly. I was hoping he wouldn’t call that play but I knew that he was going to call it. Kind of just a replay, we ran that nine or 10 times today just seeing if the tight end could get the ball, but if they pushed out we had to run. It was kind of just a scheme that we run and that’s how we open up the run game a little bit. We’ve got the right look offensive-wise, they gave a great hole to run through. They kind of set up my block to try to outrun that backside safety. They were talking mess to me about catching me on that first one, so I had to kind of veer away from them the whole time I was running. I know Alonzo (Moore) is kind of mad at me because he said if I scored on that play we had to do a celebration but I didn’t want to get flagged so other than that I think they blocked their tails off up front and got us some good looks, so I think we look good as a unit and on that run game, as I said before, it’s incredible. Those guys work their tails off. We had a couple centers that couldn’t practice today, but we had a bunch of guys step up."

What happened on the 4 in 1 play?
"We actually called the play wrong. Coach Langsdorf thought we were on the left hash when we were actually on the right hash, I’ve got to know what he means by line up the tight ends in the field and being able to run that. I’ve got to identify that he made a mistake sometimes and be able to fix it or call a timeout, so it’s kind of on both of our parts, him not being able to know when we are on the right hash and me being able to identify when the play is wrong. So, that’s on both of us being able to call a time out and fix the play, not just run it and try to just make the play, but in certain aspects that happens. As a quaterback you’ve got to understand that you’ve got to be able to identify when things are wrong and you’ve got to be able to call a timeout or fix it. So fourth and one, we’ve got to be able to do it so that’s on us."

On running the ball
"Honestly, I’m just hoping as a unit that we’re going to be able to do what we did out there. If I have to run the ball, I run the ball. But like I said, it’s all on coaches. They put us in the right position to win games, so if it takes me running a little bit more I’m up for it. We’ve got athletes all over the field, we’ve just got to make sure we put it in the guy’s hands. Me being able to run a little bit more will open up the run game for those running backs. It’ll obviously get those guys open out wide being able to make plays, so when a quarterback can make plays like that it kind of lets those linebackers know that they just can’t get out of their assignments too fast because you have another threat in the backfield that might beat you with his legs. So, like I said, it opens up a lot of things for our offensive playbook."

On De’Mornay Pierson-El and the receivers
"Like I said, that’s the most experienced group we have out of anyone is the receivers. They’ve been together for three or four years. Jordan (Westerkamp) will be back, De’Mornay will be back. You’ve got Alonzo, Brandon, Graham, there’s a bunch of guys that can make plays, we’ve just got to get the ball in their hands. Like I said before, it all starts with me being able to identify certain things, make plays with my legs in certain aspects, and just being smart with the ball, when it’s not there throw it away. Let my feet determine where I need to go with the ball, I think that’s what kind of helped me today was just taking what Coach Langsdorf and Coach Riley have installed into my brain a little bit more this second go around with their playbook and just being able to know exactly where I need to go with the ball in certain aspects."

On the difference between this year and last
"Last year was more of a teaching thing for them, just because you’ve got to eliminate a playbook that you’ve been around for three years and you’ve got to actually take a playbook that they’re installing now and throw away a lot of things. But, terminology-wise it was kind of hard. The first year was more teaching and just being able to know exactly what we needed to do and where we needed to line up. It’s kindj of tough when you start your off-season learning how to huddle. This season it was more like learning from the past and fixing those mistakes we made last spring and last fall and the season of last year. We just want to make sure we have everyone on the same page and make sure we take care of the football, those are the main things. Those are the main focuses of this off-season and I think we did a great job."

On the option
"It’s tough. We’ve just got to get great looks, we’ve got a bunch of options. You could obviously hand the ball off and the defensive end runs up field, if he squeezes down, you take the ball to your pitch guy. There’s a forced defender which could be your linebacker or your safety. It has to happen so fast that me and Terrell or Devine have to be on the same page when it comes to certain things. They know that in certain times we got plays that they won’t get the ball but they’re aware that sometimes I may pitch it, sometimes I may not. It’s hard to defend because it’s actually 3 on 2, which is two running backs and a quarterback versus a defensive end and a forced player, so once he bites down then you’re 2 on 1. You have a lot of blockers out there so you eliminate one guy and then you have two guys on one so you can either pick the quarterback or the running back and it kind of opens up the field."

On the progression of the coaching staff
"I think it’s more of the repetition, just seeing different looks. Honestly, we haven’t done anything different than we did last year with the play, it was just more of getting those guys up front aware of things and in the backfield with myself and those running backs just being able to understand certain plays, more repetition of a play you get better at it. I don’t think it’s been something we had to fix, it was just more repping the play at practice, getting different looks at it so when we got out there we knew exactly what kind of look we needed, who to go with the ball, who to throw it to, and those guys at running back position, they make key blocks on certain times I broke open for long runs so, you know, it’s just more repetition with those, not basically fixing anything. We just had to get other looks at how to run it differently. We may motion the guy out one time, we may not. That’s just repetition, being able to see different coverages first."

On overall play
"We’re looking good. Like I said, we’ve got a bunch of veteran guys on the offensive side of the ball, a bunch of guys on defense stepping up, young guys. We got a bunch of guys returning from injuries, but we’re only as good as we can make ourselves be so like I said, it’s all determined by what we do with our off-season. I think we’re two or three steps ahead of the game than we were last year and that’s because of the teaching phase of everything, now it’s more of fixing everything this offseason. Going into this offseason in the summer, we want to get bigger, get stronger, get faster and then in fall camp just get those young guys, those upcoming freshman, like POB and Graham, those guys, just make sure we get them ready just in case they have to step up and make plays for the fall."

Nebraska Football
Spring Game
Postgame Quotes

Safety Nate Gerry
A big goal for your defense is preventing big plays. How do you think your unit and the second team unit did today?

“I thought we did pretty well. I know the first unit did pretty well eliminating deep balls, but I think throughout the spring all groups have done well doing that. We go up against a real competitive offensive unit with our wide receivers, so we get good looks every day. Overall, I thought that was a big emphasis for us including the D-line with pass rushing. Now that we’ve put it all together in the spring, we’ve improved from night to day from last year.”

How much further along is secondary in understanding who to cover, when to cover them, etc.?
“The difference from last year is night and day. Last year, we were still trying to learn level one of the defense and the fundamentals. Communication has helped us a lot, and that’s one of the reasons we were up and down last fall. I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the spring with communication and eliminating those mistakes.”

How much does the constant competition between your unit and the wide receiver unit fuel you every day?
“Coach fuels the fire every day. The receivers are going to be one of the best groups in the Big Ten as a unit, and that’s great for us to compete against and evaluate how we are as a core unit. It’s nice going up against guys like that because sometimes we’re not going to see anyone better than that.”

What do you think about Charles Jackson sticking through it with his injuries?
“Charles has been sticking with it. He missed a couple of practices this spring because of classes. He’s got a lot of stuff going right now. I think mentally his second knee injury was really tough for him, as it would be for anybody, but he stepped up. He’s playing pretty good football for not being able to practice as much as everyone else. I think he could be a key player for us especially on special teams.”

The defensive line is going to have to play some young guys. What have you seen from them?
“ I know that D-line is going to need a lot of young guys to step up—we are going to need a lot of depth. I think our linebacking corps has a lot of guys that can play. I think Mo Barry had a good day today, and I think Giff (Luke Gifford) has been making a lot of plays over spring. (Marcus) Newby is also a really explosive player, and that’s three guys that maybe didn’t play as much last year that we can throw in there to make our defense more stout. In the back end, Eric Lee had a really good spring. The corners had low depth, so they had to take a lot of reps, but those guys stepped up. I think Reid Karel had a really good spring as well.”

Did you get a chance to talk with Greg McMullen about his decision?
“Greg talked to us today before the game. It’s going to be tough for the team because Greg is one of those senior leaders that everyone looks up to as a good role model to everyone on the team. He’s a veteran player that when you get down in the fourth quarter, you can count on him. Having him gone is going to be tough, but like I said, we will need a lot of young D-linemen to step up. I think the Davis twins and Peyton Newell had a pretty good spring.”

Tell me about the end of the game when you guys made the interception.
“Having a coach that is an offensive guy now, any time the defense comes out on top is a positive for us. It’s one of those things we can use to fuel the fire going into fall camp because last year wasn’t a year that we wanted as a defensive unit. I think we have a lot to prove.”