Nebraska football went through its first five weeks this season with at least one pass-catcher banged up.
Tight end Travis Vokolek missed the first three games. Oliver Martin had over 100 yards to open the year against Illinois, but missed the next four matchups. Omar Manning was in a boot for the Buffalo game. Zavier Betts and Austin Allen had played in all five games, but both had at least one they weren’t able to finish.
In Nebraska’s 56-7 win over Northwestern, all of those players were ready to go. Most offensive highlights for the Huskers came on the ground, but the returning pass-catchers made their presence felt.
Betts in particular had one of the biggest plays of the night. He took a pitch from quarterback Adrian Martinez 83 yards for a touchdown on the Huskers’ first play of the second half to make it 42-7. That play itself gave him a career-high in single-game yardage, and he added a pair of catches for 13 receiving yards.
He was on his way to a strong performance last week as well against Michigan State, with five catches for 62 yards in the first half. However, his last reception ended with him sustaining an injury that kept him out for the remainder of the game.
Betts said post-Northwestern matchup that he was glad he sat out for the second half of that contest against Michigan State, rather than pushing through and injuring himself further.
“Being able to sit out that game and then spend all week rehabbing and then being able to play the whole game tonight, it boosts my confidence a ton and shows me I’m a lot tougher than I thought I was,” he said.
Martin had a quiet return, catching two passes for 18 yards. That being said, no receiver had more than two receptions, and Samori Touré was the only one to top 25 yards. Quarterback Adrian Martinez was still happy to have Martin back on the field, even with the lack of targets.
“Oliver is one of those guys I have a ton of faith in and a lot of trust in,” he said. “He’s an experienced guy and to have him back out there was great for me and great for our offense.”
Vokolek and Manning came back against Oklahoma two weeks ago, but Martin’s return to the lineup completed the restoration of receiver health. Not every possible contributor is healthy, with tight end Thomas Fidone and Gabe Ervin Jr. being out, but the team still had more options healthy than in previous weeks.
Eleven total players and eight wide receivers caught a pass against the Wildcats, the highest number of the year in both categories. Betts said that having a full receiver room opens up more things for the offense.
“It gives us the ability to go harder a lot more, because we got more guys to rotate, so having (Oliver Martin) back is huge, especially at the outside position,” Betts said. “That just boosts everybody’s confidence and allows us to just go free.”