Nebraska’s pass rush has needed help since the days of Randy Gregory. Last season, the Huskers finished 12th in the Big Ten in sacks with 20.
The program got what it was looking for on Saturday when Ochaun Mathis committed to the Huskers.
After spending four seasons at TCU, Mathis entered his name into the transfer portal on Jan. 12. Mathis, one of the most coveted edge rushers in the country looking for a new home, chose Nebraska over his other finalist and home state, Texas.
The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder from Manor, Texas, attended the Huskers’ spring game on April 9 and Big Red must have made quite the impression. Following his visit to Nebraska, Mathis made multiple visits to Austin to check out the Longhorns. His former head coach at TCU, Gary Patterson, was recently hired as the special assistant to Longhorns’ head coach Steve Sarkisian. Patterson and TCU parted ways midway through the season last year.
What’s it mean for Nebraska?
Mathis was a second-team All-Big 12 selection in both 2021 and 2020 and recorded a combined 74 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in his career as a Horned Frog. His addition could provide a boost to the Huskers’ defensive line, especially on the edge, where he played at TCU.
The addition of Mathis gives the Huskers three solid options at outside linebacker/edge rusher as Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor were the projected starters going into the fall before today’s announcement.
Both Nelson and Tannor are coming off their best seasons as Huskers. Nelson saw career-highs in tackles (57), tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (5) while Tannor had career-highs in tackles (33) and tackles for loss (5.5).
Mathis’ commitment also helps the outside linebacker depth behind Nelson and Tannor. That position lost Pheldarius Payne, who was going to be a rotation player, but he entered the portal prior to spring ball and has since landed at Virginia Tech.
There are two intriguing—yet inexperienced—players in Blaise Gunnerson and Jimari Butler who could help. After not playing in 2020, Gunnerson was Nebraska’s defensive scout team player of the year in 2021 while he played in three games. Butler didn’t play in 2020 either and saw the field in just two games last year.
While the Mathis commitment should be considered a huge recruiting win for everyone—coaches and support staff—in Nebraska’s program, the depth problems at the interior of the d-line continue to be hard to overlook.
Nebraska’s defense badly needs bodies and depth on the inside following the offseason departures of projected starter Casey Rogers and Jordon Riley. Riley was going to be an important part to the rotation, but he entered the transfer portal and landed at Oregon, where former Husker d-line coach, Tony Tuioti, is coaching.
Mathis likely won’t play on the inside of the d-line next to Ty Robinson at Nebraska. There are options already on the team to do that, though they’re inexperienced and largely unknowns. Someone out of a group that includes Nash Hutmacher, walk-on Colton Feist, Mosai Newsom, Ru’Quan Buckley, Jailen Weaver and Marquis Black will need to emerge. Feist, a 6-2, 280-pounder from nearby Yutan, Nebraska, started next to Robinson in the spring game with Rogers unable to play.
That’s where the transfer portal comes in. Nebraska is actively looking for interior d-linemen there.
“We like what we have,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said of the d-line on ‘Sports Nightly’ last Monday. “The new way of college football is going to be doing your best to recruit for positions, expecting attrition and expecting to lose some kids and then trying to go out and fill the gaps you have. I think that is just going to be the way it is.”