Nebraska Needs More from its Wide Receivers
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Needs More from its Wide Receivers, Pickering and More

September 11, 2019

JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson have a combined 22 targets in the first two games for Nebraska. All of the Huskers’ other wide receivers have three combined targets. The tight end room — not just Jack Stoll; room — has seven targets. 

Nebraska is not getting production from the wide receiver room outside of Spielman and Robinson. In the most recent loss to Colorado, very few on offense were able to get involved. 

“Play fast,” said offensive coordinator Troy Walters when asked what his receiver group needs to do in order to start seeing the ball more. “Be more consistent playing fast. I think Mike [Williams] showed spurts at times but then doesn’t, so we’ve just got to be more consistent playing fast. If we play fast then we’ll get to where we need to be and the quarterbacks will have confidence in us. That’s the biggest thing. 

“The guys understand what we’re doing, they understand the gameplan going into the games. It’s just letting it rip, playing loose and playing fast. A lot of it’s on me. I’ve got to play other guys and trust they’ll get the job done. They’ve done a good job in practice and we always preach, ‘How you practice is how you play,’ and so we’ve got to get more guys involved and when they do they can help this offense go.”

The most notable guy from the bunch is Cal grad transfer Kanawai Noa, who head coach Scott Frost said after the Colorado game the ball just can’t find right now. Noa was sort of targeted in Week 1 against South Alabama, but quarterback Adrian Martinez was trying to find him down the right hash and was picked off by a Jaguar safety. 

Noa wasn’t targeted until the very last offensive play of regulation for Nebraska against Colorado — more of a desperation prayer than anything else — and Martinez was again picked off. 

“Nothing on him, he’s done everything we’ve asked,” Walters said. “He gets out on that field and he plays hard, he’s running good routes. Sometimes the read doesn’t go to him or Adrian throws to someone else, but we’ve got to get him more in the mix. We’ve got to get balls to him, we’ve got to get him touches. He’s a great route runner, he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, so we’ve got to find ways to get the ball in his hands.”

Walters, also the wideout coach, took a lot of the blame Wednesday for his group not being more productive to begin the season.

“I’ve got to do a better job getting guys in early and trusting that they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do and keep other guys fresh,” Walters said. “JD and Mike and Kanawai, if they’re the only three playing, they’re going to get worn down by the end of the year. We’ve got to get [Darien] Chase involved, we’ve got to get [Jaevon] McQuitty, we’ve got to get Jaron Woodyard in there and add some more depth to the receiving corps.”

Woodyard, a senior, didn’t travel to Colorado this past week, which Walters said was health-related. The wideout suffered an injury toward the end of last week and Walters said they wanted to keep him in Lincoln to get him ready for this week. 

Another guy (who has yet to make his season debut) the Huskers are anxious to get back on the field is sophomore Kade Warner. The Arizona native had 17 catches for 95 yards last season after joining the starting lineup for seven of the final nine games. 

“He’s in the mix,” Walters said. Warner did not go through practice Wednesday, but all indications are that he’s nearing a return. “He had an injury in fall camp and missed a lot of fall camp so we’re just trying to gradually bring him back to make sure he doesn’t re-injure that part of his body. He’s a guy that when he’s healthy and he’s full-go, he’s going to come out there and get open like he did last year.”

Miles Jones, a redshirt freshman running back/wideout, got into the game against Colorado in the first half and Walters said he’s having another strong week of practice. He may be in line for more playing time. So too may be Chase, a freshman, and McQuitty, a name that popped up late in fall camp as a fast riser. 

A number of options are on the table.

“We're just looking for guys to make plays,” Walters said. “Whether it’s to take the top off, whether it’s to take a 5-yard hitch and make a couple guys miss and turn it into a 20- or 30-yard gain, we are just looking for more guys to contribute, to make plays because teams are going to start doubling JD and we need other guys to be ready to go. Like I said before, we have had a great week of practice with the other receivers and I know if their number is called they will be ready to go.”

Other News and Notes

>> Ronald Thompkins didn’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday. Neither of Nebraska’s two place kickers, Barret Pickering and Dylan Jorgensen, were in pads either. 

>> Asked what needs to change for the Huskers to find some success running up the middle, line coach Greg Austin said “Finishing blocks, that’s it.

“We have to call them and we have to finish blocks better. We didn’t call very many inside runs last week. We gotta call them. Every time we called inside run it was a 5-yard gain, most every time. Every time we ran to the outside, not so much. We have to continue to work inside, work inside, call inside and then finish our blocks.”

>> Nebraska’s coaching staff continues to ask for more from Martinez in the run game. The sophomore had 66 yards and two scores on 19 carries against the Buffs, including a late-fourth-quarter score that restored a Nebraska lead, after just six rushing yards in Week 1. Frost said he wanted Martinez to look like an I-back at the quarterback spot, and it seems the staff is going to continue to press Martinez on his running. 

“He’s a frickin’ Nebraska quarterback, right? That’s what we want him to be like,” quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said. “He should be like a version of Coach Frost, No. 7, really.

“We encourage him to be maybe a little bit more dynamic with that.”

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