We continue with our five-part series called “Making The Jump” where we select five Huskers who need to, simply put, make the jump in 2022. That means going from contributor to standout at a position that needs it.
Already completed: Ty Robinson
For our second installment, we go from the defensive line to the receivers room. It’s a group full of talent and promise, but empty on production. In this room you’ll find intriguing athletes that each bring something different to the table.
There’s Omar Manning, who, at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, looks the part of a game-changing big-bodied receiver in the Big Ten. The former No. 2 overall junior-college recruit in the 2020 class according to the 247Sports Composite is coming off his best season at Nebraska where he caught 26 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns.
There’s also newcomer Trey Palmer, a former four-star who transferred from LSU this January, following his old position coach, Mickey Joseph, to Lincoln. Palmer doesn’t just provide an experienced option in the slot, he can return kicks and punts too, which is an area Nebraska has been among the worst at in the country recently.
But out of everyone in the Huskers’ receivers room, it would mean the most if Zavier Betts found success. Physical talent isn’t the issue with the 6-2, 200-pounder, a former four-star recruit in the 2020 class from Bellevue West High School in Omaha. Fans have seen flashes of what Betts can do with the ball in his hands.
Against Northwestern last season, Betts took an option pitch 83 yards for a touchdown:
Nebraska’s coaches drew up this play for Betts against Penn State in his true freshman season in 2020. Before the snap, Betts started a fly motion and, instead of taking a lateral pitch like he did against Northwestern, took a quick forward flip—counted as a pass on the stat sheet—from then Husker quarterback and current Rice Owl, Luke McCaffrey. The result was a 45-yard touchdown:
Using an athlete like Betts in the backfield when the Huskers want to use their option wrinkles is a unique and fun way to get him the ball. Nebraska used quite a bit of option last season, and head coach Scott Frost won’t and shouldn’t abandon it in 2022. But with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple now in the fold, there’s a potential for Betts to be more of a downfield receiving threat than he was in his first two seasons in Lincoln.
Everything clicked for Whipple last year while he was calling plays at Pittsburgh. Things went so well that his quarterback, Kenny Pickett, was a Heisman finalist. Nebraska’s quarterback, offensive line and running back situations will obviously need to be hashed out before there’s talk about an elite passing attack, but Betts should look at Pitt wideout Jordan Addison and be excited.
Addison won last season’s Biletnikoff Award as college football’s most outstanding receiver. The sophomore caught 93 passes for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns. Betts, on the other hand, has never had over 62 receiving yards in a game. Of course, it should be noted that this isn’t a fair comparison—Betts and Addison were in a drastically different situations last season. Betts’ playing time under former receivers coach Matt Lubick was sporadic and hard to understand for those outside of the program, and Nebraska’s offense—from the quarterback play down to the offensive line—was simply not on the same level as Pitt’s.
Whipple, a veteran coach of over 40 years, has a vast playbook. He showed an ability to feature a talented receiver if one was on the roster, and he had that in Addison. Betts, as well as others, could get the opportunities that Addison got last season. We know Betts has the athletic ability. With a clean slate and the fresh eyes of Whipple and Joseph watching, Betts has a chance at having a breakout season if all goes to plan, and that includes a competent offensive line and a quarterback who can make those downfield shots that Whipple took with Pickett.
If Betts does see the kind of success that everyone is hoping for, it would mean great things for the future of Nebraska and its ability to recruit the Omaha metro area. The Huskers are using their new elite recruiter, Joseph, in an effort to mend relationships with the area’s high school coaches.
Betts having a breakout year should help in two key areas:
- Catch the attention of future blue-chip recruits in the state and make it cool to play for the Huskers again. Looking ahead, Bellevue West’s Dae-vonn Hall is a four-star receiver according to 247Sports and currently a top-80 recruit nationally in the 2024 class. He holds an offer from a couple Big Ten West foes, Iowa and Minnesota, which are programs Nebraska doesn’t want to get beat out by.
- Attract other college receivers who are looking for a fresh start in the transfer portal. Palmer and New Mexico State transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda were two that wanted to join a program that now has proven coaches in Whipple and Joseph. With the fast-paced nature of the portal, there will be more options each year.
The 2022 season was always going to be an important one for Frost and the program, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2016. With change almost everywhere you look, the receiver room is the one packed with potential. And out of everyone in the room, it’s Betts who will be relied on to make the jump.