Expect Lots of New Names in the Third Phase
By Jansen Coburn
Six plays into the spring game, a sign of the special team woes Nebraska has endured rose from Memorial Stadium in a therapeutic chorus.
The loudest cheers of the day came from a punt off the foot of Brian Buschini. Sixty-three yards. A touchback. A beautiful sight.
Fans, perhaps some sarcastically, roared.
“I would have been clapping too if that had not been inappropriate,” coach Scott Frost said after the game.
Disjointed special teams cost Nebraska games in 2021. In response, Nebraska hired Bill Busch as full-time special teams coordinator, mined the transfer portal for specialists and is looking to fill special teams units with top athletes.
The spring game offered fans an opportunity to gauge the progress. Buschini’s punt was the first good sign.
Buschini, a sophomore, is a proven commodity. The transfer from Montana was the top punter at the FCS level in 2021. On 75 career punts, he averaged 45.8 yards.
Nebraska has also welcomed proven return man Trey Palmer out of LSU and cornerback Tommi Hill who returned four kickoffs for 79 yards last year for Arizona State. There were no returns in the spring game, so blocking, tackling and returns are still a total mystery.
But there was some actual kicking. Official stats show Buschini had seven punts for an average of 40.3 yards. He was able to down two inside the 20. On one, he launched a ball into the air that got caught by the wind and plummeted straight down as if it had hit a wall – a definite average-killer.
The place kicking was still a little rough. Chase Contreraz connected on his first field goal attempt of 26 yards but later hooked a 42-yarder wide left.
Gabe Heins shanked a PAT that was not only left of the goal post but the netting behind it. The affair left unexpecting fans ducking and dodging the careening line drive.
On the way is place kicker Timmy Bleekrode, a portal recruit out of Furman. In 2021, Bleekrode was good on 15-of-18 field goals and was 9-for-9 under 40 yards. He will join Nebraska in the fall with three years of eligibility.
One interested spring game spectator was Athletic Director Trev Alberts. As a former player, he knows the importance of special teams and likes what he sees behind the scenes.
“Watching coach Busch outside with the special teams group was great,” Alberts said in mid-April on the “Sports Nightly” radio show. “I even got to watch coach Busch have the punters and kickers doing some sprints, running and conditioning, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’”