Photo Credit: Eric Francis

‘Five-Game Season’ Awaits Huskers After Bye, Four With Tough Defenses

October 19, 2022

Nebraska junior receiver Trey Palmer shattered the school record for receiving yards in a game against Purdue. Before the Huskers’ plane landed back in Lincoln he was on pace for 1,338 receiving yards this season. The school record, established by Stanley Morgan Jr., is 1,008. He’s also on pace to set a new school record for receptions in a season.

The big-play threat is now the top receiver in the country. He’s a reliable target for quarterback Casey Thompson, whenever he’s comfortable enough to get the ball out.

Purdue sacked Thompson four times, all in the first half. Palmer had 52 yards on three catches during that half. Coaches tweaked line schemes at halftime in order to buy Thompson some more time.

“We just changed up some of the protection,” interim head coach Mickey Joseph said after the game. “Had some chips from the backs and the tight ends.”

Thompson’s taken his lumps throughout the year. Opposing defenses have 19 sacks for 181 yards against the Huskers this year. That 2.79 average ranks Nebraska 105th in the country. And it’s taken a tole at times on the quarterback.

“It’s no secret that any quarterback can sit back there and throw in the pocket with no pressure,” Thompson said after the game. “As an offense, and me as a quarterback, have to be better throwing with guys in my face and taking hits.”

Frankly, if Palmer’s on pace for history, Thompson’s on pace for a hurting.

On the other side of the bye week is Illinois, the top-ranked yardage defense right now. In addition to just 221 yards per game, the Illini allow just 3.78 yards per play and have given up five offensive touchdowns on the season. Remaining on Nebraska’s schedule are other top-10 defenses in Michigan (No. 4), Minnesota (No. 6) and Iowa (No. 7). Nebraska’s only remaining opponent outside the top 10 is Wisconsin (No. 24), which fired its coach earlier this month.

Illinois has 23 sacks this season. The Illini got to Minnesota twice in last week’s win that catapulted Illinois to No. 18 in the country. Minnesota’s defense remains stout even during its current two-game losing streak after starting 4-0. Michigan sacked Penn State seven times and forced four more hurries.

Joseph previously said coaches needed to take steps in order to keep Thompson upright. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple shared the same concern.

“Everybody knows when you don’t play well,” Whipple said after the Rutgers game.

Whipple said, in the lead up to the Purdue game, that the offense had its worst week of practice ahead of Rutgers and turned a corner ahead of Purdue. The Huskers scored 37 points and, outside of two interceptions, answered Purdue’s every step. Thompson admitted after the game he believed the offense would have gotten the ball to Palmer and scored to win the game if they’d gotten the ball back in the final 6 minutes.

Along with offensive line and receiver performances comes the run game. Anthony Grant averaged well over 100 yards even after the Indiana game. He ran for just 47 against Rutgers and 35 against Purdue. He’s fought for tough yards and Whipple’s worked him into the passing game more, like against Rutgers, but it hasn’t succeeded like an established run game.

“I told them to keep their head up, block out the noise, come back in on Monday and we’ll see what we have to fix,” Joseph said after the Purdue game. “We’re excited about the bye week. And we have a five-game season after that.”

It’ll be the toughest five games the offense has faced. The offense goes into that stretch with this current bye week and with plenty of fight.

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