Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: On Trey Palmer’s Prowess and Fred Hoiberg’s Rotation

October 26, 2022

“Palmer Down There Somewhere”

Trey Palmer was already on pace for a record-breaking season before the Purdue game, and after a monster 237-yard performance against the Boilermakers, that pace can now be considered “record-shattering.”

Through seven games, Palmer is fourth in the country and seventh among Power Five players in receiving yards with 781 on 47 receptions. Those 47 catches came on 65 targets as Palmer has a 29% target share among all pass-catchers at Nebraska, nearly double that of second place (Marcus Washington has 21 receptions on 36 targets).

To add more context, and obviously different QBs, but Samori Touré led Nebraska with a 23.7% target share last season per my tracking, and he caught 59.7% of those targets. Palmer’s caught 72.3% of the passes thrown his way and only has one drop all season, way back in his first game.

If he plays in all 12 games, Palmer is on pace for roughly 111 targets, 81 receptions, 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns. The Nebraska record for receptions is Marlon Lucky’s 75 in 2007 and for yards is Stanley Morgan Jr.’s 1,004 (on 70 receptions) in 2018.

Palmer certainly brought plenty of intrigue when he chose to follow Mickey Joseph to Nebraska via he transfer portal based on his recruiting pedigree (he was a 5-star for Rivals and a high 4-star for 247Sports in 2019) and Joseph’s history with receivers at LSU. However, with just 41 catches for 458 yards in three seasons with the Tigers, he hadn’t shown what he could do as a featured option. Seven games into his Husker career, I think it’s fair to say he’s far surpassed any expectations those around here had for him.

Joseph rattled off six different names of receivers he had at LSU that went on to play in the NFL, which helped explain Palmer’s modest production in Baton Rouge. 

“It was clicking there, but you had to really come to practice every single day and get it done,” Jospeh said on Tuesday. “If not, the next guy was going to pass you up. So, I think he grew up here. He grew up and he matured here when he got here and he understands, ‘this is what I need to do to get better.’ Trey has been the best player on the field from the age of 5 all the way to 17, until he got to college. So it’s hard for him to be like, ‘I have to compete every down now.’ Ja’Marr [Chase] had to learn that. Terrace [Marshall Jr.] had to learn that. [Justin] Jefferson had to learn that. They all had to learn that, and Trey just happened to be in a room with some first rounders.”

For the record, Joseph said Palmer is the fastest receiver he’s ever coached, faster than all those NFL guys. Early on as he built a connection with Casey Thompson, Palmer was more of a possession receiver as the Huskers got him the ball on a lot of short and intermediate routes. However, he’s gotten more chances to show off that speed as a deep threat in recent weeks as Thompson has connected with him on some bombs. Purdue simply couldn’t guard him downfield in West Lafayette before the bye.

The question now becomes, can Palmer keep this up over the last five games of the season? Nebraska is probably going to need him to do so considering the strength of the run defenses the Huskers will face and their inability to establish a consistent ground game to this point. The “eff it, Palmer down there somewhere” offense might very well be the team’s best shot at moving the ball and putting points on the board.

You can bet the remaining defensive coordinators have him at the top of the scouting report, though, and he could see increased attention. Joseph said he went through a similar situation at LSU when teams started doubling Justin Jefferson, which opened up the field for everyone else. Those other receivers were also future early-round NFL draft picks like Chase, Marshall and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, which Nebraska doesn’t necessarily have. However, Joseph expressed confidence in the team’s other pass-catching options and said guys like Washington, Oliver Martin and Alante Brown understand what they need to do if Palmer does start drawing double coverage.

Regardless of how these last five games go, Palmer has been a bright spot in another difficult season in Lincoln, even more so than Touré a year ago who bet on himself and earned a chance to play in the NFL with his performance. 

Roundball Rotational Thoughts

Changing gears, Sunday afternoon provided us our first look at the 2022-23 Nebraska men’s basketball team. You can read my full breakdown of how the game went here, but I thought I’d follow up with some thoughts on what I saw, particularly in regards to the potential rotation once the games start to count for real.

Hoiberg told us beforehand what the starting five would be, and there weren’t any surprises. However, it looks like that unit — Sam Griesel, Emmanuel Bandoumel, C.J. Wilcher, Wilhelm Breidenbach and Derrick Walker — still has some things to work through.

I decided to break down the lineups for the first 35 minutes of the game (before Fred Hoiberg began emptying his bench), and that starting five together was on the court for 12:38 of game time, far longer than any other five-man unit. Chadron State outscored the Huskers by five in the time, largely because of the slow starts to each half. None of the other units featuring expected rotation players finished in the negative.

One issue was the starting five shot a collective 3-of-13 from 3, though the rest of the team also shot 3-of-13 from deep. I’m not worried about Wilcher hitting shots, and Griesel and Bandoumel should both knock down enough of them for their respective roles. I’m in wait-and-see mode as far as Breidenbach’s perimeter shooting.

However, defense was the bigger problem. They played a pretty boom-or-bust style where Chadron State either turned the ball over or got a really good look. The starting five isn’t overly athletic or laterally quick, and it looked like the game plan was to try to funnel opposing guards to the helping big man. However, Nebraska doesn’t have a shot-blocker on the back end and the perimeter players took too many bad angles and gave up easy line drives that just collapsed the defense and opened up dump-off dunks or easy kicks for weak-side 3s. 

I’m not sure that Breidenbach is a natural four and he might struggle some at that spot depending on the matchup, though Hoiberg did say on Tuesday night during the Men’s Basketball Show on Sports Nightly that it will take him some time to get acclimated to the speed of the game coming off his knee injury. Hopefully what he showed on Sunday was more rust than anything else.

The lineup that saw the second-most minutes was Griesel and four bench players — Keisei Tominaga, Denim Dawson, Juwan Gary and Blaise Keita. That group was on the floor together for 4:48 and outscored the Eagles by three. The athleticism and physicality of Dawson and Gary really popped in that lineup, and I think those two can provide an important change of pace from some of the guys in that first five. Their shooting might be a problem, but Hoiberg will have to weigh that con against the pros of getting them both some real playing time. Hoiberg had plenty of praise for Gary and Dawson both after the game on Sunday and during the radio show on Tuesday.

Griesel was also on the floor for 29 of those 35 minutes, so we only saw brief stretches of Bandoumel running the point, too little from which to draw any conclusions.

In any regard, it looks like those are the top nine right now — Griesel, Bandoumel, Wilcher, Breidenbach, Walker, Tominaga, Dawson, Gary and Keita. Tominaga is the de facto veteran in the backcourt and Nebraska is really going to need some shooting off the bench, which is why I think Hoiberg gave him the first crack at the back-up guard minutes. We’ll have to see if he can hold off the freshmen in Ramel Lloyd Jr. and Jamarques Lawrence to keep that rotation spot, because it certainly seems like Dawson has earned some minutes on the wing.

We’ll get another look at the Husker on Sunday in what should be a much more educational viewing experience against another high-major team. Hoiberg said he’s still planning to get everyone on the court, but I’ll be playing close attention to who plays when and for how long once again as we inch closer to the 2022-23 season opener.

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