Nebraska fans and coaches alike have been anxiously awaiting the debut of wideout Omar Manning since the moment he signed on to be a Husker. He missed Nebraska’s first game on the road against Ohio State, a game Nebraska lost 52-17 with just 160 yards passing to show for its efforts.
But the wait might be drawing to a close.
“We’re still working on getting Omar healthy, but we’re hoping he can help us this week,” offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said Tuesday.
It’s worth pointing out here that Lubick wasn’t asked specifically about Manning, but rather volunteered that information when asked to speak generally about newcomer wideouts. Perhaps he knew the question was coming and just wanted to get it out of the way early. Manning has the skillset to potentially change Nebraska’s offense.
“He’s explosive. He’s definitely explosive,” Lubick said. “He brings some size to the table. He’s definitely our biggest receiver. I think right now he’s probably 215, 220. He has strong hands. He’s physical. He has a lot of good skillsets that we wanna utilize.”
Manning is listed at 6-foot-4. At the JUCO level in 2019, he caught 35 balls for 727 yards (20.7 yards a catch) and six touchdowns.
Niles Paul (19.9) in 2009 was the last Husker receiver to come close to 20 yards a catch on that kind of usage (at least a catch a game for these purposes). Only Frantz Hardy (2006 and 2007), Matt Herian (2003), and Ross Pilkington (2002) have surpassed the 20 yards-per-catch threshold for Nebraska this century.
Manning was the top-rated junior college wideout in the 2020 recruiting class for a reason. His blend of size and athleticism has coaches excited and teammates impressed. His insertion into the picture would go a long way toward helping this Husker offense out.
A major talking point after the game Saturday was Nebraska’s passing game and its perceived lack of a downfield threat.
Lubick pushed back on that notion a little bit Tuesday.
The question was about only having one pass play that covered more than 20 yards in the air (a 21-yard completion from quarterback Luke McCaffrey to wideout Wan’Dale Robinson).
“When you say one pass, do you mean we just completed one? Because I know we tried more than that. We tried more. We targeted more. Part of it was protection breakdowns or the quarterback scrambling a bit early or maybe a guy wasn’t open,” Lubick said.
Yes, Ohio State’s coverage in the secondary was a factor. The Buckeyes have talent and speed. And that talent sat deep in coverage. “They wanted you to earn in,” Lubick said. “When we were running a post, they did a great job of staying on top of the post route, which sometimes forces you to check the ball down.” Which quarterback Adrian Martinez did on several occasions.
Running backs and tight ends got nine of the 20 pass targets. If you count Luke McCaffrey into that mix (his one catch was a swing pass so why not), that’s 50%. The only wideouts to see multiple targets in the game were Robinson and Kade Warner. And Warner ended without a catch.
“There’s no question, we want to take shots down the field in every football game, but in the saying that, part of it is what the defense is giving you,” Lubick said. “We went in there with a lot more shots than one. We’ll usually go into a game with anywhere from seven to 10 shots that can actually be over-20-yard type passes.”
Part of that plan, though, Lubick said, is simply getting good players into space, getting them the ball quick and letting them “create explosives themselves.” That’s in the gameplan. You’d pencil in Robinson as the primary threat to create those plays.
But Robinson only saw six targets himself in game one. Numbers were depressed across the board as Nebraska ran 16 fewer plays than it has averaged over the past two years, but six is still too few for one of Nebraska’s best players.
“We want to get him the ball more than six times,” Lubick said. “There’s no question about that.”
Those kinds of plays are hard to generate, though, when a defense doesn’t have to respect a vertical threat. When Manning joins the fold, Robinson will undoubtedly be a little freer. It really is the perfect kind of high-low pairing.
“The key is just getting (Manning) healthy and confident,” Lubick said. “He is getting healthy,”—Nebraska has not publicly said what Manning has been dealing with—“and he’s showing some really good things in practice. Now, the next part is getting him confident so he can play at his best.
“And confidence is knowing your assignment, repping it over and over, and that takes time, that takes practice. He’s doing a really good job of it now.”
The wait has been long, but it may be nearly over.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.