More than 80,000 watch spring game for Pelini's rebuilding Huskers
LINCOLN, Neb. -- After an agonizing end to the Bill Callahan era, Nebraska fans couldn't wait to see what Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers had to offer.
Nebraska's first spring game under the new coach drew a school-record crowd of 80,149, with some tickets reportedly selling for upward of $100 early in the week.
The Reds beat the Whites 24-14 in a scrimmage where the first- and second-stringers were spread across both squads to make things competitive.
The crowd was the second largest for a spring game in college football history behind the 92,138 that showed up at Alabama last spring. The scrimmage was declared a sellout 10 days before, and some ticket brokers were finding buyers willing to pay 10 times the face value of $10 for a reserved seat.
"I thought it was a pretty special atmosphere," Pelini said. "I want to thank the fans and everybody who came out today."
Fans lined up outside the stadium gates three hours before kickoff. Minutes before the scrimmage, some folks were giving away their tickets, and early in the second half large sections of the general admission seats in the north end zone had cleared.
But those looking for spectacular performances were out of luck. That was OK with Pelini.
This spring, he said, was about installing his system, changing attitudes and improving work ethic after last year's 5-7 debacle, the Cornhuskers' second losing season in four years under Callahan.
"We're not where we want to be, but we're headed in the right direction," said Pelini, LSU's defensive coordinator last season. "We've set ourselves up to the point where the guys are starting to gain confidence. The discipline, focus and effort are there. If we continue down this road, we'll be just fine come fall."
Pelini and his players characterized the spring as a success.
"The passion's back," quarterback Joe Ganz said. "That's one thing we kind of lost last year, the passion for the game. The guys are passionate about playing football and restoring order and getting this program back on top."
It may require baby steps. The spring game offered only hints of who the difference-makers will be.
Ganz threw for 131 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Reds. More than half his total came on a 77-yard touchdown pass to Curenski Gilleylen, a redshirt freshman who had drawn good reviews from the coaching staff all spring.
Gilleylen beat cornerback Anthony West on the post pattern and caught Ganz's pass in stride in the middle of the field.
"That was a ball we always throw in practice, and it's always for a touchdown," Gilleylen said. "We knew it was coming, and when we have that route on [Joe] usually throws the ball to me, so I just have to go up and make a play."
Marlon Lucky, who had 37 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries for the Reds, looks to have dependable backups at I-back. Roy Helu capped a solid spring with 69 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Whites.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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