Trey Palmer is a man of many plays but few words.
The junior transfer came to Nebraska in the offseason and initially wanted to work on his conditioning. He wasn’t an every-down receiver at LSU. Coaches saw a bigger role for him in Lincoln. When the limelight’s burned bright, he’s materialized in the right place in scarlet and cream.
Palmer has 40 catches this season. That’s as much as his 2021 and 2020 seasons combined. It’s also tied for the most through the first six games of a season in program history. He ranks 18th nationally in catches per game (6.7) and 20th in receiving yards per game (90.7). Five of his catches have gone for 30 yards or more. Defenses have yet to hold him to less than four catches and 64 yards (both lows established by Rutgers). He’s scored as many touchdowns (3) this season as he has any year before. Now in back to back games he’s scored go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter with the 71-yard bomb from Casey Thompson against Indiana and diving 27-yard catch against Rutgers.
Thompson said Palmer approaches him at the start of every fourth quarter and tells him “if you need someone to make a play, I will make a play for you.” They’re two components in the Huskers’ growing familiarity between quarterback and receiver. Their rhythm improves, their communication improves with every game. Palmer’s gained the headlines for his big-play abilities. That starts by standing out among a competitive group of receivers.
“A lot of people see Trey as how fast he is, but what I see is Trey works hard on a daily basis and I told you guys earlier in the season we are going to continue to push Trey and the rest of the receivers,” Thompson said on Tuesday. “I know he is going to be down there, so I just throw it up to him.”
They’re advocates for themselves. They’re confident in their abilities and when their numbers are called they make the play.
Marcus Washington is the opposite side go-to receiver with his 18 catches and 266 yards, already matching his catch total last year. He’s yet to get in the end zone this year but he’s a big-play threat defenses need to account for. Oliver Martin, Alante Brown and Brody Belt provide depth with a combined 26 catches, 313 yards and two touchdowns. There’s also the dynamic change of speed tight end Travis Vokolek provides the passing attack.
That also doesn’t include Omar Manning, who’s listed as day-to-day after getting his ankle caught in the turf on an over route, or Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, who announced his leave for the transfer portal on Tuesday. Garcia-Castaneda caught the season-opening touchdown in Ireland but saw diminishing time on the field since. He wasn’t targeted against North Dakota, didn’t catch one of his two targets against Georgia Southern and didn’t move the line of scrimmage with his only catch against Oklahoma. He didn’t play against Indiana or Rutgers and announced his departure.
“He’s done everything we asked him to do,” Joseph said of his decision. “That’s the reason we have the portal.”
The junior wanted to be the top guy. Nebraska couldn’t offer him that so he moved on. Coaches leave all the time. So Joseph did what he could to help when Garcia-Castaneda wanted to move on. His teammates wished him well and the receiver issued a statement on Twitter, thanking fans for their support.
“This was not an easy decision but I believe it is necessary to grow as an athlete and find a home where I can showcase my abilities in the best way possible,” he wrote. “I wish this team nothing but the best for the rest of the season and in the future.”
Nebraska’s receiving core gained another set of hands when Tommi Hill moved from defensive back. Joseph said the sophomore struggled at defensive back but coaches wanted to get his athleticism on the field so they moved him back to a position he excelled at in high school. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple said they brought him over to help with depth. They plan on working him out more as a receiver into Nebraska’s looming bye week for the regular season’s final haul.
“He’s really embraced it,” Whipple said. “But he hasn’t been under the lights in that way.”
The Huskers’ evolving receiving group has its hands full against a veteran-led secondary at Purdue. The Boilermakers have given up 230.8 passing yards per game and 13 touchdowns total this year. They’ve also forced eight interceptions and a 55% completion rate.