Though he lost an option this week (and a rather talented one at that), Nebraska wideout coach Matt Lubick still likes the group he has.
Marcus Fleming, a former 4-star receiver signee from the 2020 recruiting cycle, opted to put his name in the transfer portal this week. Husker head coach Scott Frost confirmed on Monday the Florida native had left the team. Fleming, despite logging a catch in only one game so far this year, is third among Husker wideouts in receiving yardage.
He had five catches for 75 yards against Northwestern in the Huskers’ second game, but didn’t draw a target in either of the next two. He didn’t travel with the team to Iowa last week.
“To be honest, it doesn’t really affect our room,” Lubick said when asked if losing or departures serve as distractions he has to coach around. “We’re gonna coach the guys that are here and push them to be the best they can possibly be and I think our players understand that. I think we have a lot of friendly competition that’s making each other better.
“We have some young guys that are getting better, we have some experienced guys that are improving. It’s a daily process. Sometimes guys get nicked up or for whatever reason might not be out there. The guys that are out there are guys that we’re gonna coach and get better. You never know when your opportunity is going to come.”
Chief among the young wideouts pushing for more playing time is Zavier Betts. The local Omaha product didn’t play in Nebraska’s opener against Ohio State, but has a catch in every game since. Twice now—against Penn State and again at Iowa—he’s gotten a fly sweep drawn up for him that has worked. Against the Nittany Lions, he scored from 45 yards away. Against Iowa, he picked up 15 yards and a first down.
“I’m very proud of where he’s come from,” Lubick said. “It’s hard for any freshman to come in and make an instant impact. It takes time. I don’t know if it was an instant light. I think it was more of just gradually getting better. I do think when he got into some game action, got a little confidence and had a little success in the Penn State game, I think that gave him more confidence. Just knowing what it takes to play at this level and the speed of the game.
“He’s continuing to get better. He gets better every day in practice. Very proud of where he’s going, and he’s a special talent that’s going to be a great player here.”
Nebraska clearly likes Betts. Everyone that talks about the Bellevue West grad says something to the effect of “he’s special.” By all accounts, he’s the player Nebraska hopes for when it says it wants to recruit not just the talent but the character.
“(He’s) fun-loving, easy to coach, he just likes to come out and work,” Lubick said. “He responds well to coaching, he wants to get better, listens, and he’s competitive. He’s a competitive kid. If he does something wrong, it really bothers him. That’s a big thing we look for as coaches. He’s never satisfied and he always wants to get better.”
Another guy Lubick seems high on is Will Nixon, a classmate of Betts from the 2020 cycle.
While Nixon can’t play this season—he tore his ACL in July—it seems he’s making progress.
“It was disappointing when we lost him very early on during the summer, as soon as he got up here, because he showed great promise,” Lubick said. “He’s a guy we definitely thought would have contributed this year. To his credit, battling through his knee injury, he’s doing everything he possibly can. Ahead of schedule, shows up to every meeting, knows the position from being able to explain it inside and out without actually repping it.”
Nebraska has, on a number of occasions, praised that cerebral way Nixon has about him. The son of a football coach, one of Nixon’s presumably best attributes was his ability to pick up the little nuances in Nebraska’s playbook.
Nebraska expects to have him ready next year.
Of course, that doesn’t help in the immediate present. With two games left to play in the Huskers’ regular season, NU is working with what it has. Oliver Martin, the Iowa transfer, is working his way into the fold. Levi Falck is starting to make a little more noise on game days. Wan’Dale Robinson has upped his receiving totals each of the last three weeks.
By no means is this the wideout picture Nebraska expected to have this season—still no clarity on Omar Manning’s status—but Lubick seems to be rolling with the punches.
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.