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Nebraska Football

Tight Ends Growing Into Bigger Role for Nebraska

November 6, 2018
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Saturday’s lost to Ohio State included a number of big plays, but the winner for best play design of the day had to be the 41-yard catch-and-run by redshirt freshman tight end Austin Allen.

The play included several moving parts and a lot of deceptions, and the result was a wide open Allen running up the sideline.

“Coach introduced it on Monday in the game plan and Kurt [Rafdal] and I looked at each other like, ‘Let’s go, this is our play,’” Allen said. “We executed it all through the week perfectly so we knew it was probably going to be called in the game and we executed it perfectly, I guess.”

Allen got his first career catch the previous week against Bethune-Cookman after missing out on a big play opportunity the week prior against Minnesota. The irony of the play is that Allen wasn’t the one getting the most reps on that play in practice.

“It’s actually funny because Kurt was doing most of the reps on that play that week,” Allen said. “It was my rotation to go in for that series and they called it. I told myself right when I got in-line, ‘Oh, Kurt’s going to be pissed.’”

Allen started in-line, blocking the defensive end before slipping out to the flat where there was only one defender to defend both him and running back Devine Ozigbo. The defender chose Ozigbo and Allen took off up the field.

“That was almost the exact look we got all week in practice,” Allen said. “The scout team gave us a great look. It felt like that thing floated in the air for a year. I kind of felt that there was going to be someone closing in pretty fast but I caught the ball and kind of took a peek around and there was nobody. It was great.”

Allen caught the ball about 11 yards deep and ran for another 30 before a defender finally entered the picture. Rather than attempting to make some kind of juke move, the 6-foot-8 Allen simply lowered his shoulder and ran the defender over but got pulled down in the process.

“It was a great feeling getting so open but I hadn’t really hit anybody all year and I kind of took my shot right there, lowering the shoulder,” Allen said. “I kind of just got what I could, it felt like.”

He didn’t score, but 41 yards isn’t a bad gain for your second career catch.

The tight ends got off to a slow start this season with four catches for 53 yards through the first three weeks. While it’s been far from consistent, the tight end usage has seen an uptick over the last six games as the catches per game average by tight ends has doubled (from 1.3 to 2.6). Sophomore Jack Stoll has caught three-plus passes three times with a four-catch, 51-yard performance against Purdue. 

“Coaches, I think they’re really expanding all of our threats across the field,” Allen said. “Obviously there was a lot of JD [Spielman], Stan [Morgan], all them in the beginning of the season  and now we’re expanding it out which is really nice. When Coach calls our number we should make the play, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

As for Allen, he know has catches in back-to-back games after being held without one for the first seven games of his career. Allen said he’s a lot more familiar with the offense now which has made a big difference.

“Just overall understanding of the intent of all the plays,” Allen said. “In the beginning of the season it was more, ‘Oh, I know what I’ve got to do on this play’ but now it’s ‘I know what I’ve got to do on this play, I know where the back’s probably going to hit and where I should probably work to and whatnot.’ Just a more overall understanding of the whole play concept.”

Even when the ball wasn’t going their way, the tight ends continued to do their jobs without any frustration. They knew their time would come.

“We trusted from the start because we watched film of UCF and we saw how much they used their tight ends,” Allen said. “We knew we’d get our time and the time is kind of coming around which has been really nice for us. Overall as a team, we’re distributing it pretty well right now, so you’ve got to love that.”

Experience is always nice to have, but on the flip side, having a room filled with nothing but underclassmen like Sean Beckton has is that those guys are going to be around for a while and have a chance to really grow together.

“It’s great that we’re so young because they can develop us almost from the get-go, right from the start,” Allen said. “It’s nice that we’re not really losing anybody so we can really bond together the next three years. Usually when you lose a senior you lose some leadership and lose some brotherhood but we’re going to be sticking together for a while so that’s going to be really nice.”

Whether they’re catching passes deep downfield or blocking in the trenches, the tight end position should continue to play a big role as the Huskers navigate the stretch run of their first season in Scott Frost’s offense.

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