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What you'll find in today's news:

Langsdorf keeps it low-key, but expectations for his offense escalate  

Waiting game: What will Diaco's defense look like? 

 Farniok's 'Love Affair' with Football has him Ready to Play

Mikale Wilbon envisions success as Husker helping to boost his hometown Chicago’s image

McNitt happy with path that has led him to NU team leader

Trying to take the nice out of Nebraska football, Dave Millers Take

Sideline Decorum Among Points Of Emphasis For 2017

Swanson Passed Love of Huskers Through Generations

Drawing up the Tunnel Walk: The evolution of one of college football's best field entrances

Husker Predictions and Blackshirt Preview

Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers kick off the 2017 season at home against the Red Wolves from the Sun Belt

Deontre Thomas brings "a curve ball" to nose tackle spot

Five more Nebraska by Heart sculptures will be unveiled in ceremonies Friday

Know The Foe: A Closer Look At Arkansas State


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Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee talks with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf during a March practice at Hawks Championship Center.

Langsdorf keeps it low-key, but expectations for his offense escalate  

Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was talking about Tanner Lee earlier this week — tamping down folks' over-the-top expectations for the quarterback — but a portion of the coach's words told you a lot about his own persona.

"I think just laying in the weeds and being even-keel is a much better way to live than riding the wave of the highs and lows," Langsdorf said.

The comment is a window into Langsdorf's essence — at least that's my read on the third-year Husker assistant. He strikes me as the employee in your office who quietly and steadily produces without complaint. He strikes me as the poker player you forget about until he's collecting all the chips.

As Nebraska's 2017 opener approaches, Langsdorf is lying in the weeds, just as he prefers. Most of the discussion is about Husker defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his potential impact. If the discussion isn't about Diaco, it's about Lee and his potential impact. If the discussion isn't about Diaco and Lee, it's about third-year Husker head coach Mike Riley. Does Riley have the Big Red ship steered in the right direction?

If there's a discussion about Husker assistant coaches who might have some heat on them this season, well, Langsdorf doesn't even top that list. It seems folks are keeping a close eye on the offensive line.

But this feels like an important season for Langsdorf, if only because Nebraska's scoring average has trended down under his watch, going from 37.8 points per game in 2014 under Tim Beck to 32.8 in 2015 and 26.5 last season.

Now, of course, things have changed. Langsdorf and Riley have a quarterback who fits their pro-style system. With that in mind, Langsdorf was asked this week whether he's been waiting for two years to be able to call the offense he really wants to call.

He quickly shot down that notion. His response was admirable. It reflected his essence — no complaining, no excuses.

"I think Tanner is exciting. He's going to be a lot of fun," Langsdorf said. "But we had a lot of good stuff with Tommy (Armstrong) and Ryker (Fyfe) in the past. I think just the transition altogether, especially in year one, was just so different for everybody that there were some growing pains.

"And then Tanner hasn't played for us," the coach added. "So there's going to be some rookie stuff with him, too. But I like where we're at as a group. I think we've made a lot of progress, really, over the last couple years, and changing the quarterback a little will be different."

You probably won't hear any wild proclamations from Langsdorf. He's usually measured in his responses.

You won't always agree with his play calls. But, heck, you won't always agree with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' play calls, and McDaniels is widely regarded as the best offensive coordinator in the NFL.

But we can all agree Nebraska's offensive production should improve this season, right? Seven starters return from last season, and several other players have ample experience in the system.

"We're so much further along in fall camp than we've been," Langsdorf said earlier this week.

So, you have to expect that Nebraska will reverse the three-year decline of its yards-per-play average — from 6.22 to 6.09 to 5.36.

Langsdorf has high expectations. He wants to be clicking at a high level right out of the gate Saturday night — playing at a quick tempo has been a priority this month. Lee helps matters greatly.

In fact, if the Nebraska offense improves significantly this season, many folks will point to Lee as the primary reason — more so than Langsdorf.

I'm guessing Langsdorf wouldn't mind staying in the weeds. Seems like his style.

THUMBS UP, DOWN

Thumbs up to De'Mornay Pierson-El for his creativity in describing why he's excited about watching Nebraska's defense this season. "It's annoying, but I think people will be shocked by what it can do," the senior receiver/return man said. I hope Pierson-El doesn't mind if I steal the adjective "annoying" to describe disruptive defenses in the future. Always looking for new material.

Thumbs down to Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen, whose record at the school fell to 6-19 with last week's 58-27 loss at Colorado State. John Canzano, columnist for The Oregonian, wrote recently, "From the moment Andersen showed up it's been, 'We need to be tougher ... stronger... better ... and we need to stop making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves and fight." Andersen has railed against the notion of "little old Oregon State." It seems that remains the reality.

STAT WATCH — 11

The Mountain West Conference seems poised for a comeback in part because it has a total of 11 returning starters at quarterback, led by Wyoming's Josh Allen — a likely first-round draft pick. Three MWC teams play a Big Ten opponent this week: Wyoming at Iowa; Utah State at Wisconsin; and Nevada at Northwestern. Hot take alert: The MWC goes 1-for-3 in those games, with Wyoming upending Iowa.

HOT SEAT RANKINGS

(Notice the three SEC coaches on the list).

1. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: "Coach knows he has to win and he has to win this year," Aggies athletic director Scott Woodward said this summer on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Say no more.

2. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: He has two new coordinators, a new special-teams coach and a new strength coach. After a 4-8 season in 2016, he also has a ton of pressure on him.

3. Butch Jones, Tennessee: Can he turn the corner past 9-4? Plenty of folks think Jones has hit his ceiling in Knoxville.

4. Jim Mora, UCLA: Well, well, well. It's Mora vs. Sumlin on Sunday in the Rose Bowl. No pressure or anything.

5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn: The Tigers played for the national title in Gus Malzahn's first season. Since then, they've been 8-5, 7-6, 8-5.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

Waiting game: What will Diaco's defense look like? 

Listen to Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco or any of his players talk at the Huskers' facilities this week, and you could almost be convinced that Saturday will proceed like any other day.

Everybody else, from NU fans and program followers to offensive players and coaches, carries a healthy dose of intrigue as to how Diaco’s defense will operate shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday, when the shroud of secrecy is finally lifted and he sends 11 onto the Memorial Stadium turf, tasked for the first time with stopping an actual opposing offense.

That moment is just two days away, but patience is no fun.

The speculation among Huskers is decidedly one-sided. Defenders are toeing the company line. Offensive players offer up rave reviews.

For instance, compare the sentiments of senior linebacker Chris Weber and senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El.

“We come out here each day and try to get better and focus on us as Blackshirts and how we want to play,” Weber said when asked about developing a Week 1 game plan.

Pierson-El lauded Monday, “I think a lot of people will be shocked. The defense is difficult. We’ve had our times with it in fall camp. It’s annoying, but I think people will be shocked, actually, with what they can do and I’m excited for them because it will be fun watching them do what they do best.”

Consider what cornerbacks coach Donte Williams said compared with wide receivers coach Keith Williams.

Donte: “We’re just still getting better at our coverages and still getting better at our run fits and making sure we get better and do our job, making plays on the ball.”

Keith: “Coach Diaco is a mad scientist. He’s got ’em all now. He’s got ’em all.”

Chalk it up to business as usual for the defense and legitimate excitement from those who have had to face it the past five weeks.

So what will the unit actually look like against the Arkansas State? It will likely take several different forms, which is more or less the point.

“In this day of offensive football, the flexibility that you can get from the 3-4 defense is helpful week-to-week in what you might want to do game plan-wise,” NU coach Mike Riley said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference.

Huskers left guard Jerald Foster and others have warned about practice periods with a half-dozen or more unique blitz schemes and extra defenders coming from every possible angle. Sometimes three down linemen, sometimes four, or maybe only two.

“That’s kind of the beauty of getting into a game week,” Riley said. “Sometimes the overall inventory of what people have to learn through fall camp, spring practice, is vast and it is vast for a reason — to do a lot of different things that apply to a season, not necessarily to a game. So, getting into the last few days of last week and all of this week, that inventory will shrink.

“The goal is there for the players now to take this knowledge and be able to specifically apply it to a smaller inventory of game plan.”

A cavalcade of exotic blitzes against the Red Wolves seems unlikely. No offense stays completely the same from one year to the next, but Arkansas State ran the ball on more than 55 percent of its 2016 snaps. Furthermore, most defensive coordinators will happily deploy extra defenders elsewhere if they can get pressure with four rushers. ASU doesn't have a returning starter on the offensive line and Diaco didn’t win the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant in 2012 at Notre Dame by gambling relentlessly with six- or seven-man pressures. Really, his overall history at UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville doesn’t suggest a particularly blitz-happy philosophy.

NU hopes, though, that his carefully crafted alignments and rules will make it more difficult for opponents to figure out where rushers are coming from and how the Huskers are covering behind them.

“I think Bob does a great job of painting a picture for a player,” Riley said. “There’s a ton of emphasis placed on how to play. ‘This is your position, this is what you have to do.’ The repetitions in practices over and over again, but done in a way that always keeps the player on the edge of learning.”

Saturday night, Husker Nation will finally get a glimpse at what all that paint actually looks like.

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

Farniok's 'Love Affair' with Football has him Ready to Play

Last season, Nebraska had a clear starting five along the offensive line heading into the season: Nick Gates, Jerald Foster, Dylan Utter, Tanner Farmer and David Knevel.

Then, about a week before the season, Foster suffered a knee injury that knocked him out for most of the season. Midway through the season, Farmer missed most of two games with an ankle injury. Both tackles suffered ankle injuries as well, with Knevel missing some time and Gates playing through it.

When Foster went down, walk-on tackle Sam Hahn stepped in at right guard. When Farmer was on the shelf, Corey Whitaker took his place. When Knevel could not continue, walk-on Cole Conrad started the last five games at right tackle.

“We’ve had a lot of different situations over the last couple years but that’s football and that’s coaching,” offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said.

This year, at least for the moment, Nebraska looks healthy heading into the season. Gates, Foster, Farmer and Knevel are all back, and Conrad — who earned a scholarship based on his play last season and his work during the offseason — has moved to center and won the battle for the starting spot.

However, Hahn and Whitaker have moved on, leaving almost no experience whatsoever behind the starters. The second unit includes three redshirt freshmen and two redshirt sophomores who have played primarily on special teams. 

Who will be the next man up if misfortune were to strike? Matt Farniok, the 6-foot-6, 315-pound redshirt freshman out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, might be the answer.

“I’m excited about Matt,” Cavanaugh said. “Matt’s gotten better and better. He had a good spring, he developed throughout spring, he’s had some great practices throughout fall camp. He’s played tackle, he’s played guard. He’s done a great job.”

Cavanaugh compared Farniok to Conrad in terms of versatility and the ability to play multiple positions, though his primary spot right now is second-string right tackle behind Knevel.

“I think he’s just a tough guy,” Cavanaugh said. “He loves it. He loves it every day. He hustles his rear end off. I just can’t say enough about that. That’s a love affair that he has and he wants to be a great player. That comes from within. He just loves football and he’s a grinder.”

“We need him, so he’s got to be ready to play.”

Gates, who earned the starting right tackle spot as a redshirt freshman during Mike Riley’s first season in Lincoln, thinks he will be ready indeed.

“He’s definitely learned a lot this spring and this fall,” Gates said. “I think he’s pretty ready to go. He’s been in the weight room this winter and summer — he worked out right across from me and I could tell he hit it hard and he got strong. He could go in at any moment and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

The tackle position has been fairly shallow in terms of talent in recent years for the Huskers, but one need only listen to Cavanaugh talk about young linemen like Farniok and true freshman Brendan Jaimes to come away with a sense of hope and belief in the future.

By Jacob Padilla

Five more Nebraska by Heart sculptures will be unveiled in ceremonies Friday

Five more Nebraska by Heart sculptures will be unveiled in ceremonies Friday.

Three Husker hearts will be unveiled at a 2 p.m. event at the east entrance of Memorial Stadium. 

The three hearts are Husker Heart by Lincoln artist Lynne Reineke, Husker Tradition by Lincoln artist Patrick Gauthier and Red Rising by Friend artist Greg Holdren. 

Retired Husker football coach Tom Osborne; Jill and Gerald Foltz, parents of Sam Foltz; and Drue Lovgren, sister of Brook Berringer, will participate in the unveiling ceremony. 

Two hearts — Inside a Rainbow, created by Omaha artist norm4eva, and Of Nebraska (a multicultural heart) by Lincoln artist Michelle Hrbek — will be unveiled at a 3:30 p.m. ceremony at the main post office, 700 R St.

McNitt happy with path that has led him to NU team leader

Luke McNitt wasn't totally surprised to receive a scholarship last week.

The senior fullback had put in the work. He was named lifter of the year over the summer. He was elected as a captain this fall. 

And, his dad was confident it was going to happen.

"He said he had a feeling about it and I guess he was right," the Kearney native said Monday.

As McNitt's journey begins its final season, his parents, Steve and Tana, have plenty of reason to be proud.

"It's just everything he does and the way he does it," NU running backs coach Reggie Davis said recently. "That guy puts in the work and he's all about the grind."

It's been a grind for McNitt, who first found playing time in 2015 as a tight end before switching to fullback and earning the starting spot last season.

Soft-spoken and straightforward, McNitt certainly embodies the Nebraska walk-on spirit.

He was a star at Kearney High, a record-setting quarterback who played in the Shrine Bowl and probably could have walked on at NU right out of high school.

He went to Nebraska-Kearney instead, and got thrown into the fire as a freshman on a 3-8 team that got beat up playing in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association — the toughest NCAA Division II league in the nation.

McNitt played quarterback and tight end on that team. He likely would have all the playing time he could have wanted had he stayed at UNK. But he wasn't happy.


He headed east to walk on at Nebraska after one season, and immediately went to work.

Quarterback Tanner Lee has only been in Lincoln for a couple of years, but he's seen McNitt's example.

"I think guys feed off of that and they think, 'That's the kind of guy I want to be,'" Lee said. "I think that's a testament to Luke and how much he cares about this program and how much he cares about continuing Nebraska's great tradition."

That tradition, of course, has included its share of great fullbacks. But the offense is different now. McNitt didn't touch the ball once in a game situation last season.

He found other ways to contribute, though. He tied for the NU lead in special teams tackles. He focused on leading by example.

"You've got to prove to the coaches what you can do, prove what you can do with the ball to get more opportunities, and I think I'm slowly starting to do that," the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder said. "Last year I was more of a lead blocker. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I'm going to do it. But if you can prove to them you deserve to have the ball in your hands, I think they'll get it to you."

McNitt will probably get the ball this year. Maybe not like Andy Janovich did a few years ago, but the touches will be there.

And if they aren't, McNitt will just keep working.

"I think guys who work hard usually are looked at as leaders on the team," NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "I wouldn't say he's overly vocal, but he'll speak up. I just think he's a great worker and he's a really good guy. I think guys gravitate toward that."

Whether he touches the ball or not, whether he becomes NU's latest fullback star or not, McNitt will play his last collegiate season at peace with his path.

"Looking back, the way I got here was kind of unorthodox, and early in that decision to do what I did I might have changed it," McNitt said. "But looking back at the way I got here and how it's all come together, I definitely wouldn't change a thing

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