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Nebraska Football

Wide Receiver Position a Wildcard for Huskers in 2019

July 11, 2019
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The Year 2 bump at Central Florida is a common topic when discussing what to expect from the Huskers in Year 2 under Scott Frost. Nebraska certainly changed a lot during Frost’s first year, but the offense — the trademark of Frost’s teams — didn’t quite replicate what Frost built down in Orlando.

Recently, we compared and contrasted the carry distribution and running game production of the Huskers in Year 1 to the Knights in Year 2. Now it’s time to do the same with the aerial attack, and more specifically, with the reception distribution.

Central Florida had a star in Tre’Quan Smith and pretty good balance outside of him. Nebraska had two stars in Stanley Morgan Jr. and J.D. Spielman and little else in the way of consistent production around them.

In 13 games in 2017, Central Florida completed 287 passes (22.1 per game) to 17 players for 4,313 yards (331.8 per game) and 38 touchdowns, averaging 15 yards per completion.

In 12 games last season, Nebraska completed 256 passes (21.3 per game) to 16 players for 2,977 yards (248.1 per game) and 19 touchdowns, averaging 11.6 yards per recaption. To be transparent here, I ignored Adrian Martinez’s completion to himself because that was just a bizarre play and shouldn’t count.

Nebraska and UCF completed roughly the same number of passes per game; the Knights, however, were far more explosive and they found the end zone a lot more often.

Both teams completed almost the exact same percentage of passes to wide receivers (68.3% for Central Florida, 68.4% for Nebraska). The big difference is in the tight end and running back usage in the passing game. The Knights completed 19.2 percent of their passes to tight ends and only 12.2 percent to running backs while the Huskers saw tights ends catch just 10.9 percent and running backs 20.7 percent. Oh, and Central Florida also threw a touchdown pass to a defensive lineman which was cool.

Here’s a breakdown of Central Florida’s top receivers.

Name Class and Position Games Receptions Receptions/ Game Yards Yards/ Reception TDs
Tre’Quan Smith JR WR 13 59 4.5 1,170 19.9 13
Dredrick Snelson SO WR 13 46 3.5 695 15.1 8
Jordan Akins SR TE 12 32 2.7 515 16.1 4
Gabriel Davis FR WR 13 27 2.1 391 14.5 4
Otis Anderson FR WR/RB 12 30 2.5 351 11.7 3
Marlon Williams FR WR 12 17 1.4 270 15.6 2
Michael Colubiale SR TE 13 10 0.8 221 22.1 1
Cam Stewart JR WR 12 6 0.5 197 32.8 1
Adrian Killins Jr. SO RB 13 25 1.9 169 6.8 1
Jordan Franks SR TE 13 12 0.9 120 10.0 0

*Rest of team: seven players, 23 receptions, 213 yards, one touchdown

And here’s a look at Nebraska from last season.

Name Class and Position Games Receptions Receptions/ Game Yards Yards/ Reception TDs
Stanley Morgan Jr. SR WR 12 70 5.8 1,004 14.3 7
JD Spielman SO RB 11 66 6.6 818 12.4 8
Jack Stoll SO TE 12 21 1.8 245 11.7 3
Maurice Washington FR RB 11 24 2.2 221 9.2 1
Devine Ozigbo SR RB 12 23 1.9 203 8.8 0
Mike Williams JR WR 12 12 1.0 122 10.2 0
Kade Warner FR WR 8 17 2.1 95 5.6 0

*Rest of team: nine players, 23 receptions, 269 yards

Smith was Central Florida’s top target, and he was something Nebraska lacked last season — a true deep threat. Despite catching 11 fewer passes than Morgan, Smith produced 167 more yards because he averaged almost 20 yards per catch. 

On the other hand, Nebraska more or less force-fed Morgan (14.3 yards per catch) and Spielman (12.4) as the duo combined for 136 receptions, 1,822 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Dredrick Snelson, Central Florida’s second-leading receiver, came in just shy of 700 yards but still averaged more yards per catch than either of Nebraska’s top guys at 15.1 and he matched Spielman’s touchdown count of eight.

The third-leading receiver for both teams was a tight end, though UCF’s Jordan Akins (6-foot-4, 262 pounds) was both more productive and more explosive than Nebraska’s Jack Stoll (6-foot-4, 260 pounds). Getting the tight ends more involved — and the tight ends getting down field more quickly — has been a focus for Nebraska this offseason and it’s not hard to see why when you look at the tight end usage in Orlando.

Central Florida had a clear-cut third wide receiver in Gabriel Davis who totaled nearly 400 yards. Finding a third receiver was something Nebraska never quite managed to accomplish, however, as Mike Williams wasn’t able to hold onto that job and Kade Warner, while reliable, totaled less than 100 yards.

Central Florida had a true Duck-R in Otis Anderson, and he served as a legitimate option 4b to Davis’s 4a. Nebraska didn’t really have that player, though Maurice Washington sort of filled that void as he proved to be a legitimate pass-catching threat out of the backfield and even split out wide at times.

Adrian Killins Jr., UCF’s starting running back, only caught 25 passes which was sixth on the team. Devine Ozigbo, on the other hand, was third on Nebraska with 23 receptions, and he wasn’t even the starter for the entire season.

Central Florida also had a small role for a speedster in junior Cam Stewart, who only caught six passes in 12 games but averaged a ridiculous 32.8 yards per reception.

In a perfect world, I think Scott Frost would like to see much more downfield passing than what we saw during his first season in Lincoln. But Nebraska is going to have to find a way to accomplish that without it’s top receiver and best deep threat (who wasn’t all that much of a deep threat in the first place). I’m a believer in the tight end group and Stoll’s improvement, and even if he doesn’t replicate what Akins did in 2017 I think he’ll at least be in the ball park. But Nebraska needs some wide receivers to emerge.

The Huskers have plenty of candidates. Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard are seniors now and have one last shot to prove they deserve to be on the field, and they both possess the speed to get deep on the defense. Kanawai Noa joins the group as a graduate transfer after a productive career at California. Warner should still be in the mix because of his sure hands and blocking ability. Javon McQuitty is now a full season removed from his injury, Andre Hunt received plenty of buzz during spring ball and Miles Jones — a Duck-R candidate — will hopefully be healthier than last season.

The Huskers also have a quartet of true freshmen in Wan’Dale Robinson, Jamie Nance, Demariyon Houston and Darien Chase. Robinson is as safe of a bet to get playing time as anybody as he’s capable of making plays both as a traditional slot receiver and as a Duck-R. 

Central Florida had six wide receivers, three tight ends and a running back record more than 100 receiving yards in 2017. How many Huskers will reach that mark this season?

Wide receiver is as big of a wildcard as any position on the team heading into 2019.

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