Hot Reads: If Pierson-El Can't Play . . .
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: If Pierson-El Can’t Play . . .

September 08, 2017

Just when you think you’ve written something that makes at least a little sense, real life knocks on your door and serves you with papers that read “There Is No Substitute.” Real formal, real life.

On Thursday, I partnered up with Justin Hopkins of again to highlight five players I thought had to play well for Nebraska to beat Oregon. The fifth player on the list: wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El. I was still operating on what Mike Riley said Monday, and assumed Pierson-El might be dinged up but would play. When the Hail Varsity crew, myself included, landed in Los Angeles, I learned that maybe that wasn’t a given.

It sounds like Pierson-El will at least give it a go, and we’ll see what happens from there. But what if he’s limited? What’s it mean for Nebraska?

It’s kind of an interesting problem to consider. I clearly thought Pierson-El had the opportunity to make an impact, but the real key for Nebraska on Saturday is having a receiver other than Stanley Morgan Jr. that can make the Ducks pay. That could just as easily by Tyler Hoppes, JD Spielman or Tyjon Lindsey (the player listed behind Pierson-El on the depth chart). I gave Pierson-El the nod because of his experience and his role as Nebraska’s primary punt returner. (And it’s not like we haven’t seen him flip a game against the Ducks before.)

Without him, the Huskers are going to need something of a national coming out party from a young player. Even though Hoppes is a senior, I’d put him in that category based on the low number of football miles on his odometer. He could have a big game and it wouldn’t come as a total shock.

The more fun options, however, are probably Spielman or Lindsey — the actual young guys. When’s the last time Nebraska’s had a true, “holy cow, this kid is one of the best players on the field” game from a freshman? It may have been Pierson-El in 2014 against Fresno State. He returned five punts against the Bulldogs that year for 150 yards and one touchdown. That was exclusively a special-teams breakthrough.

For a position player, it’s probably Jordan Westerkamp. He was having a solid true freshman campaign through two months, but he broke out against Northwestern on Nov. 2. The Chicago-area native went for four catches and 104 crucial yards against his hometown team. He also had the first touchdown catch of his career and the only one of his freshman season. You might remember it.

In a tough road environment as a two-touchdown underdog, I don’t think Husker fans would be opposed to a 100-yard, one-touchdown receiving day from a freshman.

Hail Mary optional (but always a ton of fun).

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