Husker notes: Captains named, Tunnel Walk changes, Zips and more

Husker notes: Captains named, Tunnel Walk changes, Zips and more
Nebraska's Mick Stoltenberg started 12 games at nose tackle in his junior season and recorded 33 tackles and four tackles for loss. (BRENDAN SULLIVAN/THE WORLD-HERALD)

LINCOLN — When Nebraska coach Scott Frost talked to the media Thursday morning, he expected to handle captains one way. By Thursday night, he’d changed his approach.

So Husker players voted receiver Stanley Morgan, offensive guard Jerald Foster, nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg and outside linebacker Luke Gifford as NU’s seasonlong representatives.

“After talking about it and deliberating on it for a while, we decided to keep with Nebraska tradition of having just four captains,” Frost said Thursday night on his Husker Sports Radio monthly show. He said he’d previously used a unity council — from which game captains emerge — but changed it for this year.

Frost said the four were “pretty clear winners.” Three — Foster, Gifford and Stoltenberg — are from Nebraska. Morgan, who broke NU’s single-season record for receiving yards last season, hails from New Orleans.

Foster is a captain for the second straight season. The Lincoln Southeast graduate earned specific praise from Frost on Monday for his leadership.

“He’s going to get the guys in a huddle if he needs to,” Frost said.

Gifford, Foster’s high school teammate, has battled injuries throughout his career but earned respect from teammates for his playmaking ability when healthy and his willingness to speak up when necessary. Gifford’s voice was notable, former coaches have said, in a second-half comeback last season at Oregon when NU’s defense, after giving up 42 points in the first half, shut out the Ducks in the second half. Both Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander have said Gifford exceeded their expectations in coming back from a hip injury that kept him out of spring camp.

Stoltenberg, from Gretna, has long been an example for other defensive linemen who joke about his “old man” voice while respecting his place in the program. Defensive line coach Mike Dawson has consistently gushed about Stoltenberg’s presence on the defense.

“Mick’s a great guy,” Dawson said. “He’s a clear, distinct leader as far as the program goes. He’s smart in what he says, he talks to other people. He’s very passionate about what we’re all trying to do. Mick’s been awesome since the day we got here.”

Morgan has become more of a vocal leader in his senior year. He represented NU at Big Ten media days and has made himself more available for media interviews. Teammates — and Frost — have respected Morgan’s on-field toughness and passion, especially as a blocker.

“I had to come out of my shell this summer,” Morgan said at Big Ten media days. “I was that quiet leader. Lead-by-example -type guy. But I’m more vocal now.”

For the last three seasons — and most seasons in recent Husker history — Nebraska named captains before the season. During the Bo Pelini era, NU sometimes used game captains, naming permanent captains after the season had ended. Frost hinted after practice Thursday he planned on using game captains in 2018. Instead, the same four seniors will walk out for the coin flip.

Tunnel Walk changes will blend Huskers’ past, present and future, A.D. Bill Moos says

LINCOLN — Tunnel Walk changes, alternate uniforms and crossover opponents were among the topics Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos discussed during a 15-minute session with reporters Thursday.

With Saturday’s 7 p.m. season opener against Akron looming, the A.D. said the anticipation he’s felt from fans is palpable.

“You can feel throughout the state a great deal of energy, excitement,” Moos said. “And it’s all coming to a head.”

Among the highlights from the question-and-answer gathering:

» Moos said there will be changes to the Tunnel Walk, though he’ll experience them for the first time along with fans Saturday night. Those changes came from the football program, he said, and he embraced them.

He thinks some music will be different, he added, though that is only “hearsay.”

“I think it kind of goes with our theme of ‘honor the past, live the present, create the future,’ ” Moos said. “There will be pieces of the Tunnel Walk that are traditional and have been part of our history through many, many years. Then there will be some things that might be more appealing to that 18-, 19-, 20-year-old player. I think it will be a tasteful congregation.”

»  Another case of blending tradition with innovation is alternate uniforms. Moos said there will be one or two home games this season when Nebraska goes with an alternate look, including Nov. 10 against Illinois.

»  Nebraska and Michigan became crossover partners through a random drawing the league conducted this summer, Moos said. An associate commissioner picked team names out of a box. The Huskers and Wolverines will meet each season from 2021 through at least 2025.

The transition to random protected crossover games came in part thanks to Moos, who said he convinced enough of his peers that Big Ten powerhouses playing each other so often would be detrimental to the league earning spots in the College Football Playoff.

»  Regarding the pair of conference road games Nebraska will play to open seasons in 2023 (at Minnesota) and 2025 (at Illinois), Moos said it is a matter of helping accommodate the wishes of television networks.

“Our TV partners want us to spread the conference games out because they’re the most attractive,” Moos said. “Everybody’s going to get a little taste of that in due time. I really think that our program, by the time we get to that point, will be a veteran program that will be able to handle that. You gotta play somewhere.”

»  On transfer rules, Moos said he thinks the changes aren’t over yet. But he said there should be a consequence of sitting out a year for transfers to prevent a free-agent frenzy that resembles pro sports.

»  Moos said the level of commitment to being on the selection committee for the College Football Playoff is greater than he thought a few years ago. But with all of his five children out of the house, he said he’d be up for the challenge.

“I wouldn’t mind being on it now,” Moos said. “Print that, please.”

Everything Husker fans need to know about the Akron Zips

A preview of Akron, the first opponent of the Scott Frost era.

* * *

2017 record: 7-7

Offensive yards per play: 4.88 (T-118th nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 6.02 (T-91st)

Turnover margin: 0.71 (19th)

Penalty yards per game: 62.4 (T-103rd)

Coach

Terry Bowden (31-44 at Akron)

Two things have been constant for the son of former Florida State coaching legend Bobby Bowden in his six years at Akron — losing tough nonconference games and contending for bowl games. Akron is 1-8 against Power Five programs under Bowden, including blowouts last year against Penn State and Iowa State. But Bowden has turned the once-moribund program around, helping it to its first bowl victory in 2015 and breaking a 12-year division-title drought in the Mid-American Conference last season. Once an ABC Sports broadcaster in the early 2000s — he worked Bill Callahan’s first game at Nebraska in 2004 — Bowden is in his fifth head coaching stint (Salem 1983-85, Samford 1987-92, Auburn 1993-98, North Alabama 2009-11).

Offense

Type: Spread

Coordinator: A.J. Milwee

Once known for being the second-youngest FBS coordinator when he was promoted as a 26-year-old in December 2012, Milwee has since settled into his role with mixed results. The Zips were among the worst rushing offenses (105.4 yards per game, 124th nationally) and scoring units (22.1 points per game, 108th) and merely subpar in the passing game (210.6 yards per game, 81st) last year. Akron shifted former special teams coordinator Jeff Bowden into a new role as passing coordinator while Trent Boykin assumes a running game coordinator spot after coaching running backs and tight ends at the school previously. The staff believes sophomore quarterback Kato Nelson is talented enough to build the offense around going forward.

Defense

Type: 4-3

Coordinators: Todd Stroud, Joe Tresey

Longtime coach Chuck Amato retired following six years as Akron’s defensive coordinator, and Bowden replaced him in the offseason by splitting his role between a pair of assistants. Stroud worked as the Zips’ defensive line coach the last six years while Tresey joins the program after two years on staff at Kent State. They take over a veteran unit that will start 10 seniors — including nine returning starters — and is anchored by first-team all-MAC linebacker Ulysees Gilbert (141 tackles and a team-best five sacks last year). The downside is the group struggled mightily in stopping the run and the pass, though it made up for some of that yardage by allowing red-zone scores just 80 percent of the time (36th nationally).

Players to watch

Kato Nelson, quarterback: The former three-star recruit started the final five games last year after the suspension of departed starter Thomas Woodson and performed well enough to keep the job this fall. He ran for just 198 yards on 95 carries across 10 games a season ago but has added 10 pounds in the offseason in anticipation of a more dual-threat approach. Akron also believes the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Nelson can be more efficient after completing 70 of 140 attempts for 989 yards and eight scores against two interceptions. Terry Bowden has said he believes the Florida native can be the spark in the Zips’ offense for years to come.

Ulysees Gilbert, linebacker: From a two-star recruit with three total scholarship offers to a two-time first-team all-MAC performer, Gilbert has been a playmaker from his outside spot. His 141 total tackles were 58 more than the next Zip defender last season and he had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Now on multiple preseason watch lists as a 26-game starter, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior is primed for another campaign as a threat to both rush the quarterback and cover receivers in space.

They said it

“He’s gonna miss the Nebraska game so he can watch us play Morgan State the next week. He’s no dummy.” Bowden, on whether his hall of fame father would travel to Lincoln this weekend.

“You know the other team is highly favored and you go out there and do the best you can do. I believe Northern Illinois went out there (to Nebraska) last year. … I mean, y’all are familiar that’s not that long ago (and) this is a completely different team. But you know things can happen.” Bowden on his team’s chances to win.

Three stats

106: Akron’s national ranking out of 130 FBS teams last season in rushing yards allowed per game (205.43).

11: Times the Zips broke off rushing gains of 10-plus yards in 14 games last season. They made just four runs of 30 yards or longer. Senior Van Edwards (343 yards on 94 carries) is the top returning back.

1: Time Akron and Nebraska played previously. That was the 1997 season opener, when then-NU quarterback Scott Frost and the Huskers began their eventual national championship season with a 59-14 win.

Schedule

Sept. 1 at Nebraska

Sept. 8 Morgan State

Sept. 15 at Northwestern

Sept. 22 at Iowa State

Oct. 6 Miami (OH)

Oct. 13 at Buffalo

Oct. 20 at Kent State

Oct. 27 Central Michigan

Nov. 1 Northern Illinois

Nov. 10 at Eastern Michigan

Nov. 17 Bowling Green

Nov. 23 at Ohio​

Akron at Nebraska

When: 7 p.m. Saturday (2 p.m. Pregame)

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln

Radio: 103.1 FM

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