Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The 10 Most Intriguing Huskers of 2021: No. 2 Samori Toure

June 30, 2021

For a fourth year, we’re counting down the 10 most intriguing Huskers. Earlier, I wrote about who would have earned spots 11-20 if the countdown was extended out and shared a look at the previous three groups of Huskers from 2018, ’19, and ’20.

The intent of this exercise is to highlight players who might have the largest impact on the upcoming season, one way or the other, with their play. It’s not a ranking of the best players on the team and it’s not even really a rundown of the most important players to accomplish X, Y, and Z. It’s as the name suggests: the most intriguing talents on the roster.

Things kicked off with Nick Henrich at No. 10 and Oliver Martin and No. 9. Then, No. 8 Quinton Newsome, and No. 7 Gabe Ervin Jr.No. 6 Adrian Martinez, and No. 5 Matt Sichterman to the group. Last week added Luke Reimer at No. 4 and No. 3 Damion Daniels to the list. Up next…

No. 2: Samori Toure

Stanley Morgan Jr. broke the program record for receiving yardage in 2018. It was a fun piece of trivia for Husker fans attending parties with non-Husker fans; a program as illustrious as Nebraska, surely it had seen a 1,000-yard receiver at some point in its history. “But I thought Johnny Rodgers had a Heisman?” you might be questioned. Yup, but nope. 

Nebraska’s past was always run, run, run, which didn’t preclude it from having outstanding wide receivers—Morgan the latest rather than the exception—but no one before him had hit the century mark for a year.

And then Scott Frost came along and brought with him a spread-it-out, up-tempo, all-out offensive and Nebraska suddenly had a system seemingly capable of regularly producing that kind of statistical milestone. In Morgan’s first and only year with Frost running the show, he put up a 1,004-yard, 70-catch, seven-touchdown season.

Even though Nebraska was a mystery from week to week with regards to play, Morgan was an absolute. He could take the top off a defense. Often I think back to that 2018 meeting with Ohio State in The Shoe. Nebraska is falling behind early in the fourth quarter and needs some life on offense, and quarterback Adrian Martinez just sort of throws up a prayer. Morgan battles a defender and comes down with the ball 46 yards later. Nebraska gets points out of the possession. 

That’s a quarterback’s best friend.

Morgan was a leading receiver in more than just his numbers. He brought the room along. He instilled a toughness, perhaps too a competitiveness. 

In 2019, Nebraska missed Morgan. It missed his size and his skillset, that bigger receiver who could do just about anything regardless of where you lined him up. But Nebraska had JD Spielman and Wan’Dale Robinson, two supremely talented wideouts, just on the shorter side. You were limited a little, but their fearlessness worked to mitigate those shortcomings, no pun intended. 

In 2020, with Spielman moved on and Robinson sucked back to the backfield more than was the plan, Nebraska really missed Morgan. The passing attack looked caged and half-baked. When the Huskers had receivers open downfield, the ball couldn’t find them. When Martinez had time to survey the field, receivers couldn’t beat their coverage. 

The Huskers threw for 190 yards a game, by far the lowest of the Frost era and the lowest clip by a Nebraska team since 2011. That team had Taylor Martinez at quarterback and Rex Burkhead in the backfield, though; it threw the ball 22 times a game on average. It was built to run. 

Only nine programs in 2020 averaged fewer than 22.5 passes (the 2011 number), and three of them were service academies. Under Frost, Nebraska needs balance it didn’t get last year. 

The hope is that the 2021 season is the culmination of a few recruiting cycles of adjustments. In 2018, Nebraska relied on recruiting guys it had already done its homework on at Central Florida, which meant a premium was on pacey, shifty, slot types at receiver. Nebraska signed a bunch of them. And then when Morgan left, it had a ton of positional redundancy at wideout. 

No one was around to take the top off anymore. In 2019, Frost looked to the transfer portal to try and put a bandaid on the problem and he got Kanawai Noa from Cal. Mixed results. In 2020, the Huskers signed local high school phenom Zavier Betts and a sure-fire can’t-miss prospect from the JUCO ranks in Omar Manning. The 6-2 Betts looked like your typical first-year player, and the 6-4 Manning battled consistency all year. 

This offseason, Nebraska made perhaps one of the five or so best transfer portal additions of any team this offseason. CBS Sports rated him as one of the five best Big Ten transfers of the offseason. I’m here to argue he might be clear and away the most impactful.

All this way in and we’ll finally mention the subject of this piece. 

Samori Toure can be a difference-maker. 

There’s an inherent and unavoidable gag reflex for Husker fans, I’m sure, to hear that said about a wide receiver after what occurred just a year ago, but Toure’s addition is a bit different from Manning’s. 

For one, Toure will have Manning by his side this season. Had Manning played last year, he might have been the main target for opposing coverages with Robinson spending so much time in the backfield. With the 6-foot-3 Toure set to line up in the slot, Nebraska can present some seriously problematic choices for opposing defenses if Manning can get and stay on the field (all signs point to that being the case). 

“I feel like when we’re on the same side, in my mind they gotta pick one of us to take away, and you can’t take us both away,” Toure said after NU’s spring game. “That’s something that’s gonna be really important.”

And part of why the Huskers want him working in the slot. The first play of that May 1 scrimmage was an RPO slant to Toure that went for 27 yards. 

“He just has a natural feel for how to play football, where to go to get open, and really in the slot he provides us a downfield threat and a bigger-body guy with a catch radius and feel for the game that we really haven’t had in the slot since I’ve been here,” Frost said. (Not a shot at the former slot guy, lest anyone interpret it that way.) “I think he makes us better immediately. The ball’s gonna find him, it naturally finds that slot receiver in our offense if we have the right guy there and I think he’s the right guy.”

Frost said Toure’s ability to learn and process info was top-notch. He picked up the scheme quickly. He got on campus and went straight to work. Frost called him a professional. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick called him a polished route-runner, which is another way of saying he’s detail-oriented. “He really wants to be great here and we could tell that pretty early on,” Martinez said.

This spring, everyone from wideouts Levi Falck and Oliver Martin to Martinez to Lubick to Frost said Nebraska was prioritizing the downfield pass more. Progressions were tweaked to look deep and then come back. Martinez felt more comfortable with the receivers he was throwing to. (There are seven wideouts standing 6-1 or taller who could end up as two-deep guys on Aug. 28.) 

The room makes a ton of sense now, assuming health and availability. 

If Manning is the swing-for-the-fences kind of wideout, Toure is the guy who just keeps peppering that gap in right center for doubles.

He can step into the Morgan role off the field. 

Toure has played in the FCS Playoffs and played exceptionally well when the games mattered most. He had 82 catches for 1,495 yards and 13 touchdowns the last time he played a full season. Had the FCS level played in the fall last year, Toure would have been an NFL Draft selection in the most recent draft. There’s a reluctance to go all-in on an FCS player’s ability to impact the FBS level, but there’s also a misconception about the quality of ball the top of the FCS plays. 

“He could do anything,” Bob Stitt, Toure’s former coach at Montana, told me when he committed to Nebraska. “You just want to find ways to get him the ball. He can really put his foot in the ground. A lot of vertical guys, they can really run, but they can’t make people miss and they’re not really who you want inside in the slot. Samori can play anything. 

“He can take those little smoke routes you saw Alabama doing early in the National Championship game—just trying to get it to their Heisman trophy winner—and you just do a little play-action and pop it out there. Multiple times, Samori would take those for 30 yards where a normal receiver, just an average receiver, it might have been a 2-yard gain.”

But beyond that, Toure might be able to bring the room along. He knows what it takes. He’s been on winning football teams. He’s been a key cog for a winning football team. When he talks, it seems like he has the voice others will listen to. And when he goes on the field, he has the ability to back up whatever he preaches off it. 

That’s key. 

Nebraska and Frost are in a make-or-break offensive year in 2021. Toure should be able to provide some much-needed help. 

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