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Michigan State vs. Nebraska, 11.17

Nebraska coach Scott Frost leads the Huskers out of the tunnel for their final home game last season at Memorial Stadium in November.

HOW THE HUSKERS LIGHT UP THE SCOREBOARD

1. Start fast. The offseason’s been long and a strong sense of anticipation will follow Adrian Martinez and Nebraska’s offense onto the field the first time the Huskers get the ball. Why dink around and punt a couple of times when you can just start putting points on the board right away?

2. Spread it out. Last year, four players — Martinez, JD Spielman, Stanley Morgan and Devine Ozigbo — combined for 71% of the Huskers’ rushing and receiving yards. Morgan and Ozigbo are big losses, of course, but NU should have more options in the pass game and perhaps in the run game, too, in 2019.

3. Let Wan’Dale work. One of the players Husker fans are excited to see is freshman Wan’Dale Robinson. Here’s betting — assuming Robinson, who’s dealt with minor hamstring issues, is fully healthy — that we see a big dose of No. 1 in his collegiate debut against South Alabama.

4. Clean up front. Penalties burned Nebraska badly in 2018, particularly early in the season. The more the Huskers can stay out of their own way and steer clear of procedure penalties in particular, the easier life will be on the offense.

HOW THE BLACKSHIRTS SHUT ’EM DOWN

1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Nebraska forced 20 in 2018, which isn’t terrible but is not near the level Erik Chinander wants. The competition level will get stiffer as the season progresses, of course, but starting off with a crooked number in the takeaway department would provide a jolt of energy before a looming trip to Colorado.

2. Big day for the LBs. The Huskers don’t have ideal depth at the linebacker level, but they should have more than enough to stymie the Jaguars. It can be simple: Play the proper run fits and don’t blow assignments. Big plays — sacks, TFLs, turnovers — are welcome, too. The more production from the middle level, the better for NU.

3. Staunch up front. If NU is going to have a big year in 2019, the defensive line has to be much improved. It’s been talked about as a strength all offseason, and it is indeed full of veteran players who have plenty of experience under their belts. With another year of physical development and the addition of senior DT Darrion Daniels, can the Huskers dominate from the jump?

4. Win the field position game. When you’ve got more talent than your opposition, don’t make it easier on them by yielding a short field. If USA faces long fields consistently, it’s going to be tough to put points on the board. A solid special teams outing — and turnovers, of course — can put the Jaguars in an even tougher spot than they’ll be in entering the game.

THREE NUMBERS TO KNOW

1: A new spin on this one, just for the opener. The No. 1 is Wan’Dale Robinson on offense and Caleb Tannor on defense. Robinson is the electric freshman back and Tannor one of only two sophomores to earn a Blackshirt ahead of the opener.

51: That’s Cameron Jurgens on offense, the redshirt freshman center who bounced back from a long string of foot injury issues to assume the starting job on the Husker offensive line.

26: The big junior college running back, Dedrick Mills. Regardless of whether sophomore Maurice Washington plays, Mills will be a central part of the Husker offense.

UNDER THE RADAR

Kanawai Noa

WR, No. 9, sr.: The graduate transfer from Cal arrived on campus this summer and quickly set about learning multiple receiver spots. There are plenty of players that get talked about more — Robinson, Mills, Martinez, Spielman, etc. — but Noa is a starter, a sure route runner and, if he stays healthy, could be in for a big season. 

Marquel Dismuke

S, No. 19, jr.: Dismuke went from highly touted recruit to afterthought to holdover to reserve and special teams stalwart to now, in his fourth season, starting safety. That’s a show of perseverance for the Compton, California, native. 

MARQUEE MATCHUP

USA defensive tackle Tyree Turner against NU center Cameron Jurgens (and maybe Will Farniok, too)

Turner was second-team All-Sun Belt last year, compiling 51 tackles (10 for loss) on the interior of the Jaguars’ defensive line. Jurgens (and Farniok, if Jurgens is on a “pitch count,” as offensive line coach Greg Austin suggested he might be) will be making his collegiate debut. The coaches speak highly of both, so it will be a nice test against an accomplished senior right out of the gate.

BIGGEST MISMATCH

NU’s offensive weapons against, well, the Jaguar defense

Not to oversimplify this, but USA allowed 38.8 points and nearly 450 yards per game last fall. The Jaguars finished No. 101 in rush defense and No. 90 in pass defense. Over NU’s last nine games in 2018, it averaged 490 yards per game and 33.4 points.

PREDICTION

Nebraska 55, South Alabama 17

Expectations for the Huskers range from significant to sky-high depending on who’s being asked. There will be hiccups and challenges and losses along the way. Saturday should not cause much in the way of consternation, however. Assuming the weather holds and NU’s overall health does, too, this should be a chance to start fast, bury an opponent and get ready for Week 2. The nonconference has rarely gone smoothly for NU in recent seasons, but the Huskers are primed to roll in this one.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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