When Nebraska’s needed game-changing plays on offense, Trey Palmer has been the one to deliver as of late.
The transfer wide receiver has put up numbers all season, but it’s been even more notable in the last two games. Early in the fourth quarter with Nebraska tied at 21 with Indiana, quarterback Casey Thompson connected with him for a 71-yard go-ahead touchdown. That highlighted a 157-yard day for the junior.
On Friday night, the Huskers called on him again. Nebraska, down 13-7 to Rutgers in the final quarter, intercepted a pass with 9 minutes left to play. The next play was a Thompson connection with Palmer in the back of the end zone, bringing about a 14-13 score that held until the clock hit zeroes.
“We knew Trey was gonna be able to run by these corners, and we knew the safeties was going to check down on the seam route, so it was a really good route by Trey,” head coach Mickey Joseph said postgame. “One thing Trey can do is when he sees it, he can go get it, and he made a great catch.”
Thompson’s retelling of the play held a similar sentiment, but differed slightly. He said Palmer was supposed to run a post route, and ran around the defensive back instead of releasing inside. Still, he beat his man, and the quarterback threw it where only Palmer could catch it.
“That’s one of the plays that we put in for the game plan, and it worked out great for us,” Thompson said. “It was a big-time play call.”
That touchdown accounted for 27 of Palmer’s 64 receiving yards on the day. For much of the game, the receiver and the rest of the offense had been held in check. This was his least productive outing this season in yardage and tied for his lowest number of receptions at four.
Palmer’s first target fell incomplete. His second was an interception, as a big hit on the quarterback resulted in an off-target throw. Near the end of the opening quarter, he brought in a 50-yard pass, only to be called for offensive pass interference on the play. His first touch came on a mistimed sweep on third-and-short where he was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage.
He brought in his first reception with Nebraska down 13-0 in the second quarter, taking it for 20 yards and moving the Huskers into Rutgers territory for the first time in the game. That drive ended with a pick, too.
Travis Vokolek, who tied for the team lead in receptions on the night, reassured Palmer throughout the game that he’d get the chance to make big plays.
“I kept telling Trey all night, ‘Dude, we’re going to get you the ball, stay patient, we’re going to get you the ball,'” he said.
After the 20-yard gain, that kept coming to fruition in the second half. On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Huskers scored their first points on a Vokolek touchdown. Just prior to that, though, Palmer converted a key third down in the redzone with a 9-yard catch. His third catch was on another third down, and he nearly converted it on a leaping grab before the defender hit him in mid-air to keep him short of the first down marker.
That all led up to the touchdown play. He didn’t bring in any more passes after that, given the mission for the rest of the game was to run out the clock. Thompson threw two more passes on Nebraska’s final full drive—an 11-yard third-down conversion to Vokolek and a third-down checkdown to Oliver Martin that ended up getting another first down by way of an unnecessary roughness call.
A defense which held Rutgers to 13 points and forced three turnovers may rightfully be the focus following a low-scoring win. However, it can’t be ignored that both of the Husker drives which put points on the scoreboard featured major plays by Palmer.
“We need to get the ball to our playmakers,” Vokolek said. “Casey threw a great ball, great protection by our o-line, we scored on it, and it’s a great night in New Jersey for Nebraska.”