Nebraska football: Transfers providing big boost to offense
Nebraska took a deep dive into the transfer portal following a disappointing 3-9 season last year. So it’s no surprise some new faces are having a big impact on the offense. But through 2 games, the amount of production Nebraska’s getting from its newcomers — even to those who knew the level of talent coming in — is a tad eye-popping.
Texas transfer Casey Thompson is off to a strong start at quarterback. He’s thrown for 548 yards and 3 touchdowns, while amassing a rating of 141.16. He’s completing nearly 62% of his throws and looks comfortable in Mark Whipple’s offense despite one ugly pick in Saturday’s victory over North Dakota.
Thompson even showed the ability to keep the ball and turn up field on zone-read plays, something he didn’t show in a Week 0 loss to Northwestern. If he continues to gain confidence and flash the ability to run along with his throwing skills, Nebraska’s offense could take off.
The team’s red zone offense, which was hit-and-miss in 2021, is off to a great start this season. Scoring 6 of 7 times, with all 6 being touchdowns, is a sign of better execution.
Anthony Grant has emerged from a crowded running back room and gained a firm hold as RB1. He shared Big Ten offensive player of the week honors following his 189-yard, 2-TD performance against North Dakota.
Sure, the Huskers have had backs get hot in past years. But Grant looks different. His vision has been impressive and his ability to make defenders miss, especially with a late jump-cut move, has turned heads. The Huskers leaned on him in the 2nd half against the Fighting Hawks, and the Florida State/New Mexico Military Institute transfer delivered in a big way. His 46-yard TD late in the 3rd quarter put Nebraska ahead to stay.
It’s been since Ameer Abdullah in 2014 that Nebraska has had a back of Grant’s combination of power, vision and breakaway speed. He has 2 TD runs of 40-plus yards already and is averaging 145 yards and 2 rushing TDs per game. He’s the Husker since 2010 (QB Taylor Martinez) to have 100-yard rushing efforts in his first 2 games with the team.
Grant’s instincts and vision have been on full display. Quick jump-cuts and changes of direction have been evident on his TD scampers. And his ability to reach the 2nd level and make guys miss is one that’s hard to coach. Grant is looking more and more like a workhorse back in this offense.
Palmer asserting himself as WR1
LSU transfer Trey Palmer is quickly turning into Thompson’s go-to target. Palmer has shown the ability to shake free deep, along with catching the ball in traffic. His 12 catches and 150 yards in 2 games lead the team.
His 31-yard snag on 3rd-and-14 with 10 minutes left moved the chains and allowed the Memorial Stadium sellout crowd to exhale. Nebraska was backed up at its 7-yard line, leading only 24-17, when Thompson connected with Palmer on the play.
He has yet to find the end zone in 2022, but don’t be shocked if Palmer changes that narrative Saturday against Georgia Southern. The comfort level between quarterback and receiver is growing, and more big games for Palmer look to be on the horizon.
Receivers coach Mickey Joseph came to Nebraska from LSU. His influence in knowing Palmer previously and getting him to Lincoln are big. Palmer is tight with his position coach, and that strong relationship has helped ease his transition.
Washington finding his groove
Another familiar target of Thompson’s is former Texas teammate Marcus Washington. Washington’s numbers through 2 games are modest — 4 catches for 58 yards. But he’s narrowly missed on a couple of big plays, and looks poised for a breakout game soon. Their chemistry is evident, and he’s shown tremendous burst up field after the catch.
Washington has earned a start in each of Nebraska’s games. His 2 catches against Northwestern both resulted in first downs. He’s becoming a reliable target and a guy who can get yards after the catch. He appears to be earning the trust of both Joseph and Whipple.
Washington started 7 of 12 games for the Longhorns in 2021. He pulled down 18 balls for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s no stranger to the big stage, and his opportunities will only increase.
Allen providing nice option at RB2
True freshman Ajay Allen, while not a guy Nebraska landed in the portal, has moved his way up the depth chart and is contributing as a solid backup to Grant. Recruited out of Texas by current running backs coach Bryan Applewhite, Allen burst onto the scene against the Fighting Hawks with 58 yards rushing and a touchdown. He was listed at a solo No. 2 on the depth chart Monday.
As roles become more defined, it’s looking more and more like the new faces are taking the lead.
Nebraska looked to upgrade many of its offensive positions — especially quarterback — after 4-year starter Adrian Martinez hit the portal for Kansas State. Martinez put up modest numbers Saturday in his Wildcats’ debut. Thompson appears to be a slight upgrade, but plenty of season remains to determine the verdict.
One thing is clear: Scott Frost knows the urgency to produce. It’s now or never. Getting his best talent on the field and keeping them there is a must. You could hear the pain in the 5th-year coach’s voice at Monday’s press conference as he discussed last year’s starting running back, Rahmir Johnson. Johnson has yet to get a touch in 2022.
“He’s one of the guys I feel the worst for right now,” Frost said.
"He's one of the guys I feel the worst for right now. I have no doubt he's going to be a big part of what we're doing through the course of this season."
— Kevin Sjuts (@kevinsjuts) September 5, 2022
Johnson is a proven commodity. He ran for 495 yards in 2021. But Grant is the real deal. He’s got All-Big Ten talent. And the Huskers can’t afford to not give him the ball.
College football has hit a new era. NIL deals and an active transfer portal are here to stay. Frost, with all the changes on the coaching staff, needed some home run hitters. It appears he found several candidates.