Nebraska Football Wide Receiver Zavier Betts Runs for a Touchdown Against Northwestern
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

On Nebraska’s O-Line Responding, Brewington’s Role, Zavier Jetts, and More

October 03, 2021

Positive things to write about! Finally! Nebraska looked highly efficient in a 56-7 rout of Northwestern. It got the Huskers to 3-3 on the season, setting up just a juicy six-game close to the year. NU will fight for bowl eligibility against a schedule that still features Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa.  

But Saturday was a big step. Husker head coach Scott Frost has said numerous times his team needed confidence. Wind under the wings. A boost. Whatever you want to call it. 

Maybe we should have called it “Northwestern on the schedule.” The Huskers started hot and kept the hammer down all game. 

Here are some other thoughts:

Nebraska’s rebuilt offensive line was always going to get everyone’s attention Saturday. And, by and large, they looked fine. 

Frost issued a warning shot on Monday at his press conference. Nebraska needed “to find a left guard” and “play a little better at right tackle.” Through the Huskers’ first five games and 143 pass plays, they had allowed 18 sacks. Nebraska was one of the worst teams in the country at preventing pressure. 

Northwestern didn’t touch Martinez in the pocket Saturday. No sacks. Only two tackles for loss allowed as an offense all day (that only resulted in 4 yards lost). Nebraska averaged 8.2 rushing yards per carry as a team, only the fourth time it has hit for 8 or more in a game in the last decade. 

The changes: Teddy Prochazka replaced Turner Corcoran at left tackle, Nouri Nouili replaced Trent Hixson at left guard, and Corcoran replaced Bryce Benhart at right tackle. 

Though we could go through and highlight all the plays and mistakes that led to the changes up front, it’s probably best to focus on the new configuration moving forward. Because Nebraska should stick with this configuration for at least one more week. 

Prochazka—a true freshman mind you—and Nouili were moving bodies on the left side of the line. Nebraska had push. Nebraska controlled the line of scrimmage in the kind of way you want to see.

Frost’s message at the beginning of the week was clear: “I want to see them come off the ball and rip it and strike people and run and create some seams for the running back to go through. Right now I’d rather have a miss doing that than getting on guys and not moving anybody. I don’t want to see running backs take the ball and have a wall of people in front of them. We need some crease runs, that’s going to open a lot of things up. And we need to protect better. I think some of that was technique on Saturday. We’re going to help them out some other ways, but generating a little consistent run by being more aggressive and playing with good technique in protection. We’ve got maybe the most athletic quarterback in the country and he still got sacked seven times, so there’s a lot to fix there.”

Maybe the two new starters on the left are the answer. 

Sure, you could question why Nouili was the third man at left guard (Nebraska began the season with Ethan Piper there) or what happened to Benhart or why it took five games to make the change. Those are all legitimate questions that warrant legitimate answers. 

It’ll be important to build on this momentum the line has created for itself. Michigan, at 5-0 and No. 9 in the country, comes to town next week for another game under the lights of Memorial Stadium. The Wolverines, with the eighth-best defense in the country according to Bill Connelly’s SP+ system, will provide a significantly stiffer test than Northwestern. 

The Cats looked uncharacteristic on defense. The offense was as expectedly bad, but defenders were running themselves out of plays and fitting wrong more often than you usually see from a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team. 

You tip your hat to Nebraska, though. At the end of the day that was perhaps the most clinical a Scott Frost-coached team has looked in his four-year tenure and the offensive line played a key role in that. It needs to continue. 

How this shuffled offensive line looks against the Wolverines, specifically Aidan Hutchinson—who I labeled in the offseason as one of the best players Nebraska will play all season—will tell us more than Northwestern could. Hutchinson will be a test for Nebraska’s young tackles, both of whom now are freshmen in their first years starting. The man’s a freak. 

When it came to transfers, so much emphasis was on Samori Touré and Chris Kolarevic, and rightfully so. But, Chancellor Brewington deserves some kind of award.

If you see No. 82 motioning across the formation, know he’s coming to bang heads.

(Direct your eyes to the guy motioning pre-snap each play.)

Brewington arrived at Nebraska as a wideout. That’s maybe the best part of it. He spent four seasons at Northern Arizona, an FCS school, and appeared in 21 games. With Nebraska at one point carrying injuries to its top three tight ends, Brewington moved to Sean Beckton’s room. Not the tallest (6-foot-3) and not he biggest (listed at 185) but Brewington has absolutely no compunction about throwing his weight around.

He got on the field for the first time against Fordham, blocked for two plays and then caught a touchdown. Frost played with tendency and got Brewington open on his third snap for an easy score, the Rams were anticipating he would just try and hit someone again. Brewington is clearly part of Nebraska’s goalline package. Defenders beware. 

You might have noticed Rahmir Johnson in that montage above. The third-year running back deserves attention, too. Johnson has worked and worked and gotten better as an all-around tailback since arriving at Nebraska. He worked on his hands as a pass-catcher and clearly has worked to be better as a blocker. 

Johnson appears to have his coaches’ trust. With a 12-carry, 74-yard, two-touchdown performance on Saturday, you can see why. He’s running confidently right now. The second touchdown showcased nice feet as he bounced to the hole and ran through a defender for the score.  

Zavier Betts just makes plays. He has 26 career offensive touches at Nebraska. He has produced 401 yards on those touches. 

That’s 15 yards a touch.

Here’s the Bellevue product’s latest:

Theoretically, Northwestern linebacker Bryce Gallagher (32) should have been able to cut off Betts, but that man is “mom asked you to do chores while she was gone and you forgot until the ‘I’ll be home in 15 minutes’ text hits” fast. 

A friend from Twitter came up with the new nickname for Betts—and the only one we will acknowledge from this point forward—Zavier Jetts. (Shouts to you, Peyton.)

Nebraska’s wideout rotation looked good against the Cats. With Oliver Martin now available again, Nebraska should have a foursome that garners the lion’s share of snaps. Martin and Samori Touré are starters, Manning has proved more than capable and probably most importantly available, and Betts is quickly reaching “don’t take him off the field” status. 

Samori Touré has become the big-play, downfield threat Scott Frost has lacked. The Montana transfer receiver currently ranks 14th nationally in receiving yards (483). He’s played six games, though, compared to 17 of the other guys in the top 20 who have played five or fewer. Touré has that extra Week 0 showing against Illinois to help in the counting stats category. 

Still, it’s been over a decade since the Huskers have had a receiver end a season even inside the top 30 nationally for receiving yardage. That’s a big deal, right? 

Touré has certainly proved doubters wrong that his game could transfer from the FCS level to the Power Five level. If you regularly read these Sunday pieces, you know I’ve said since his arrival Touré was an NFL talent who could greatly help Nebraska, an under-the-radar transfer portal addition and a shrewd find for Frost. 

It’s Touré’s per-play numbers that are worth serious attention, though. 

Nebraska hasn’t really had a downfield big-play threat since Stanley Morgan Jr. left the program. And even then, Morgan averaged a shade over 14 yards a catch in his lone season with Martinez and Frost in town.

Frost said in the offseason he wanted Touré in the slot. In putting the 6-foot-3 wideout there, he was following in a line of coaches putting their best receivers in the slot but breaking the mold of what that position had been for Nebraska to this point in his tenure. 

Wan’Dale Robinson was the quintessential Duck-R. Coaches talked up Miles Jones as the initial guy for their slot/all-purpose position in the offense, and Robinson’s arrival in 2019 gave them a dynamic talent to do it all. Robinson spent a huge chunk of his time in the backfield and was asked to run between the tackles. 

Touré is involved in the run game insofar as the option element is concerned. He has only six carries in six games. Robinson averaged six carries per game last season. (Nine the year before that.)

Instead, Touré is allowed to do what he does best—work defenders in coverage, find space, and run. 

There are 16 players nationally right now who are averaging at least 20 yards per reception (I’m not rounding 19.9 up). 

There are only seven guys doing it while also boasting at least 20 receptions. 

On 23 catches, Touré is averaging 21 yards a catch. He leads the Huskers in receptions by 10 (Betts has 13) and has almost three times as much yardage as the No. 2 guy. He’s Martinez’s deep threat and break-in-case-of-emergency guy all in one. The chemistry is clearly there. The first play from scrimmage Saturday saw Martinez throw up a ball that very easily could have been intercepted and instead ended with a 70-yard Touré touchdown as he worked back to the ball. There’s trust there.

Touré has been exactly what the doctor ordered. 

With three wins needed over the last six games and a daunting gauntlet on tap, Nebraska will need him to keep on keeping on. 

By the way, Nebraska hasn’t had a qualified receiver average 20 yards a catch for a season since 2007. (Again, not rounding up Niles Paul’s 19.9 in 2009 or Brandon Reilly’s 19.6 in 2016). 

Martinez is currently eighth nationally in QBR (84.9) and third nationally in EPA (expected points added, 43.6). And he may have just turned in one of his cleanest performances as a Husker. Certainly not the flashiest, but Martinez had a clean pocket and found guys when he needed to find them. Crazy how that works. 

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