First, a requisite mention of the sack that wasn’t: That play where Randy Gregory provided a picture of his potential, made an offensive tackle stand in mud and planted a quarterback into the pretty new carpet.
A beautiful football play — power, speed, collision. But there is much subjectivity in this game in 2013. One person’s beauty is a flag-worthy offense to another.
“Honestly, I’ve been playing since I was 7 years old,” said the sophomore defensive end. “I’ve never heard of roughing-the-passer when I actually sack the quarterback.”
Flag or not, you can’t unsee what the eyes have seen. That play in Nebraska's 37-34 season-opening win against Wyoming was good enough to send imaginations running about what Gregory might be, one of those silver linings for the Husker faithful.
But it was just one play, and Gregory's not dwelling on it, so let's not either.
Let’s talk instead about the more hidden elements of his first game as a Husker -- like in-game adjustments. They are something newcomers usually struggle with, making the necessary changes not just on the sideline in between series, but on the field between plays.
Yet it is something, said Husker defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski, that Gregory did quite well last Saturday, considering it was just his second football game in 21 months.
It also is something, you might assume, that could potentially help Gregory see more and more action as the season continues.
“Him being an older guy, he’s able to come on the sideline and give you a pretty good perspective of what’s going on on the field,” Kaczenski said. “(He’ll say), ‘Hey, this is what they’re doing, Coach. Hey, that guy ain’t blocking it like he did on tape.’
"So he’s got that extra level, a little bit of maturity, where those young guys, those freshmen, they’re just trying to not screw up. Randy is thinking more about the details, the execution of his job.”
Being 20 years old and having spent two years in a junior-college program classifies you as an “older guy” on this defensive line.
It’s the reason Kaczenski said Husker coaches threw a lot at Gregory this fall, even though he arrived in Lincoln just days before fall camp began.
The thought was, Gregory could handle it. And, as early impressions go, he has as well as could be expected.
“That (Wyoming) quarterback, we were close, I thought we got him out of rhythm a couple of times, it’s just getting him down,” Kaczenski said. “But I think Randy learned a few things about himself, and I think we learned a few things about him — how we can help with his pass rush and also be a three-down guy against the run.”
Work remains. With the penalty erasing his sack, Gregory finished with two tackles and a quarterback hurry.
And while some of Nebraska’s young defensive linemen showed flashes of promise, the Husker defense registered no sacks and, perhaps more troubling, just one tackle for loss.
“I rushed the passer pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement,” Gregory said. “My play against the rushing game, I think I need to improve on.”
Still, for a man coming off a broken leg suffered last season at Arizona Western Community College, just being back in the heat of game competition was its own feel-good moment.
“It was pretty special for me, especially playing in that stadium. It’s a pretty big deal,” Gregory said. “But after about the first series, it was just football again.”
Now he hopes to play the game at the level he showed in junior college.
In his first year at Arizona Western, Gregory recorded 82 tackles, including 21 for loss, and nine sacks.
When the school’s spring showcase arrived last year, coaches from about 30 FBS programs showed up, and everyone wanted a look at Gregory.
Then came a full-contact practice the second week last fall. Gregory got caught just outside the pile on the second play. Someone rolled up on his ankle. When he got it checked out, the diagnosis was a broken fibula.
It would be almost 11 months — in Lincoln — until Gregory would step on the field for another football practice.
In the meantime, waiting, waiting, watching the Big Ten Network, waiting, waiting, watching football clips on YouTube, waiting some more.
“Just trying to stay motivated.”
He’d run every day. Lift every other day. Fish was popular menu item. Milk, too.
His efforts paid off. When he reported to Husker camp, the 6-foot-6 Gregory weighed in at 255 pounds, certainly looking the part.
But he wants to play the part, too.
While waiting to clear his final academic hurdles, Gregory analyzed Nebraska’s defense as best he could while at his parents’ home in Michigan.
He knew a little, but just a little.
“Even to this day, I’m still perfecting things we worked on Day 1 at fall camp," Gregory said. "So nothing’s finished, but I think I’m getting better at it.”
It hasn’t kept him from setting the bar high. He won’t share his specific goals but will say, “I like to set my goals pretty high.”
His arrival on campus certainly got the attention of his fellow defensive linemen. Redshirt freshman Avery Moss said Gregory’s appearance spurred him on even more this fall.
"Every snap is a competition between me and Randy, and it's a good competition," Moss said. "I love having him here. He's such a good player, and he's benefited me a lot, and I think I've benefited him a lot."
The affable Gregory loves the competition just as much.
“It’s been fun," he said. "We have a rotation going so everyone’s getting plays, but I want to try to see the field as much as I can.”
One thing he’s not doing is sweating that flag from the season opener.
“There’s more opportunities. Just got to come out this week and get another one.”
Someone suggested two sacks.
Gregory smiled at the thought.
“Yeah, make up for last week, huh?”