Bo Pelini brings cat to Nebraska spring game to kick off festivities
LINCOLN, Neb. — Coach Bo Pelini cradled a cat in his arms as he walked out of the tunnel and raised it over his head like that scene from the "Lion King."
No, spring games at Nebraska aren't like those strictly business affairs of yesteryear where Tom Osborne would run play after play to give even the players on the lowest unit a chance to shine in front of a big crowd.
The cat — a nod to the avatar on a popular Pelini parody Twitter account — was just a start to the diversions in front of 61,772 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Pelini challenged receiver Kenny Bell to a throwing contest. Cheerleaders helped call offensive and defensive plays for a series. A former player proposed to his girlfriend during a punt, pass and kick competition.
Oh, there was some football, too. Instead of splitting the players into two teams, the offense and defense were pitted against each other for 115 plays. The offense won 55-46 in a scoring system that awarded points to the defense for certain accomplishments.
The star of the afternoon, besides the cat, was junior Imani Cross, who ran six times for 100 yards and two touchdowns against the No. 1 defense.
"MVP right here," quarterback Tommy Armstrong announced as he walked up behind Cross at the postgame news conference. "He's running hard and takes his reps the right way. Every time he got the ball today — he averaged 17 yards a carry. He rushes like that, it's going to be a hard time stopping me, Ameer and him."
Ameer Abdullah, the nation's top returning rusher, sat out as a precaution against injury.
Cross is looking to expand his role from short-yardage back. His 39-yard touchdown run helped his cause. He made a sharp turn left after breaking through the line.
"I think I would have made the cut last year and the year before, but the question is how fast I would have made the cut," Cross said. "Hopefully this May I can make the cut faster than I did today."
Five things to know about the spring game:
ABOUT THAT CAT: Pelini has had an off-and-on give-and-take with the anonymous person who tweets @FauxPelini. The avatar on the account is an altered picture of Pelini wearing a sweater and holding a cat. Pelini joked in January that he wanted his cat back.
Players and assistant coaches prodded Pelini to have a cat with him as the team entered the stadium. He agreed and, football operations director Jeff Jamrog said, an athletic marketing staff member loaned the cat to Pelini.
"The cat was probably a little freaked out," Pelini said. "That's more people than the cat was used to. Just trying to have a little bit of fun."
After the cat episode, FauxPelini tweeted to 86,000 followers, "Fine, you can keep her."
QB PECKING ORDER: Armstrong completed 4 of 8 passes for 97 yards and will go into preseason practice as the No. 1 quarterback. Pelini said Johnny Stanton (8 of 12 for 135 yards, 2 TDs) and walk-on Ryker Fyfe (9 of 12 for 89 yards, 1 TD) are co-No. 2s.
DEFENSIVE GEMS: The defense recorded six sacks even though the Huskers were short of defensive ends. All-Big Ten end Randy Gregory sat out as a precaution. Nathan Gerry, who moved from linebacker to his more natural safety spot, intercepted Armstrong on the third play. Linebacker Josh Banderas and corner Anthony Ridder also had picks.
CATCH OF DAY: Walk-on Brandon Reilly, playing with the No. 1 offense, snagged a short pass in front of cornerback Josh Mitchell with his finger tips and cut across the field for a 51-yard gain.
KICKING PROBLEMS: Incoming freshman Drew Brown will get a long look at place-kicker when he arrives, Pelini said. Mauro Bondi missed an extra point and an 18-yard field goal and Spencer Lindsay had an extra point blocked. Bondi "had a chance to separate himself as the place-kicker and didn't do it," Pelini said.