Raise your hand if you had this on your preseason predictions list: Nebraska’s leading receiver through three games is a tight end.
Austin Allen, a fourth-year junior from Aurora, Nebraska, has 98 yards on seven catches to begin the year. That’s already a career-high for a season.
He was targeted on the Huskers’ first throw of the game against Penn State, a 25-yard completion from quarterback Luke McCaffrey to Allen. McCaffrey was flushed from the pocket, Allen kept working his way up the field, and McCaffrey threw it up for him.
That’s twice in three games the first pass attempt of the opening drive went to a tight end. Lots of things at play there, but Nebraska talked all offseason about continuing to involve that room more in what it did as an offense and those guys look to be more of a threat as a result.
Nebraska had high hopes for Rutgers transfer Travis Vokolek, but he’s got only two catches for 13 yards on seven targets. Allen, meanwhile, seems to be filling that void. He’s caught seven of his nine targets.
“He’s playing at a high level,” said Allen’s position coach, Sean Beckton. “He’s really done some good things for us this year and he’s going to continue to do that.
“He has emerged as one of the guys that the quarterbacks really look for downfield. He’s made some really nice plays vertically for us. Also, in-line blocking, he’s done a tremendous job of understanding what’s going on there with defensive fronts and being able to maneuver and adjust there with some physicality.”
Beckton credited Allen’s work in the offseason. His comfort in the offense is growing. While Nebraska has started opening things up a little more offensively in game prep each week, Allen isn’t swimming. He has the ear and the confidence of his quarterbacks.
“A lot of times, us tight ends are telling the quarterbacks, ‘We’re 6-7, 6-8, just throw it up and we’ll go make a play.’ We’ve got big bodies. We’re open even when we’re not necessarily open in the quarterback’s eyes,” Allen said. “We tell them to just throw the ball and we’ll use our frame, we’ll use our body to go make a play.”
That’ll get you in a little bit of trouble sometimes, as it did against Northwestern. But Nebraska also needs a little bit of that, too. Especially as the wideout room works its way along without clarity on Omar Manning.
“I know a lot of times in the scramble drill, those quarterbacks are trying to find the big guys,” Allen said of practice. “They’re trying to find whoever’s open, honestly, but I know they trust us tight ends a lot because of our frame and our size. All week through practice we’re making those plays, just building that trust with our quarterbacks.”
Seems like that room has other things to be optimistic about, too. Jack Stoll appears to have avoided a serious injury.
The senior had his knees taken out from under him against Ohio State, then missed the entire Northwestern trip as a result. He saw a handful of snaps against Penn State last Saturday.
Fashioning a brace over his left knee, Stoll wasn’t able to play much, but he did throw a key block on Zavier Betts’ long touchdown. Nebraska was happy to get him back on the field.
“He’s the core of our tight end room,” Beckton said. “He’s the leader of the room. Gave us a spark, had a big block on that long touchdown run for Zavier Betts. He’s worked extremely hard to get back.
“Early this week, he’s done well. He’s starting to progress back to taking some of his normal reps in practice. Last week, we just gave him a few to build him up and get him ready to go. We’re just gonna try to accelerate that with him this week and see how it goes throughout the rest of the week.”
That whole room is trending in the right direction.