Published Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 9:46 pm / Updated at 11:19 pm
Backups more vital to a thin NU receiving corps
Northwestern at Nebraska
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

LINCOLN — At the start of Nebraska's 34-23 loss at Minnesota, NU wide receivers coach Rich Fisher finally expected to have his three top pass-catchers — Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner — on the field together and in reasonably good health after a bye week.

Their presence was important. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck had planned beating the Gophers' load-up-the-box defense by alternating quick and long passes against Minnesota's secondary. He'd need his top trio, considered one of the best wide receiver corps in the Big Ten, to do it.

So, naturally, intentions were derailed. Bell got dinged up on the opening kickoff. That's why Husker fans saw redshirt freshman Alonzo Moore catching the game's first pass. And before the first quarter was up, Turner, who had missed most of three games with a hamstring injury, was hobbling off the field to be replaced by backup Jordan Westerkamp.

For Fisher, the hits and injuries just keep on coming to his unit to the point where, after Thursday's practice, junior Tyler Wullenwaber ended his NU football career via Twitter.

“You need that depth,” Fisher said Thursday before that announcement. “Sometimes you sit there and think 'God, how do I get all these guys on the field?' Next thing you know, you're in a game where you're using all of it.”

That included Wullenwaber before his surprise announcement and another walk-on, sophomore Sam Burtch, who has played ahead of scholarship sophomore Taariq Allen, who is in the final stages of fully recovering from last year's ACL tear in his knee. Moore, who showed promise in spring camp before injuries slowed him this fall, is working his way into the lineup, too, Fisher said.

In Turner's absence, Westerkamp is just three catches behind Turner for the season. In just his third year of playing receiver, Turner was expected to have a breakout season. He's been in every game this year, but took limited snaps against Illinois and Purdue because of hamstring injuries. He limped off the field against Minnesota.

“Oh yeah,” Fisher said, “he's questionable (for Saturday).”

Bell, who missed part of his senior year of high school football with a broken collarbone, said he could empathize with Turner.

Want the latest Husker headlines delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for email alerts!

“We all want to play football bad, but sometimes your body won't let you,” said Bell, who has caught 27 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns this season. “That's what Jamal's experiencing right now. And that's tough. We feel for him. But the game goes on. That's the worst feeling, being hurt and the game goes on without you.”

Allen, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who played for Fisher at a Boston-area high school, has known that feeling since hurting his knee Oct. 27, 2012, on a kickoff return against Michigan. While Allen has played a few snaps this year, as of last week he was still getting fewer practice reps behind Enunwa than Burtch, who has two catches for 42 yards.

“I'm starting to feel a lot better,” Allen said last week before the Minnesota game. “The coaches have a plan, so I'm just going with the flow.”

Why hasn't he played much?

“I'm not sure what it is,” he said. “I can't answer that question. I'm just going to do what I can do.”

Fisher said Allen “kinda popped out” in practice this week and is “climbing north” in his progress toward more playing time. Allen spent six months off the leg, Fisher said, so muscle atrophy was natural and expected.

“His mind is telling him he should be out there, but his body is telling him something totally different,” Fisher said. “That's the frustrating part.”

It's part of a larger, frustrating injury story for the unit.

Enunwa and Bell remain on pace to surpass their number of catches from last year, and Enunwa is just 80 yards from his 2012 yardage total of 470. Both have been counted on to play a lion's share of the snaps. Fisher has lauded their effort, but he wants good productivity out of the backups — especially now that they're needed.

“Don't pray for your opportunity, pray you're ready when your opportunity comes,” Fisher said.

* * *

Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after Thursday's practice

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.



< >
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.'s Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Shoreline Golf Club
$40 for 2 Players, 18 Holes of Golf with Cart ($85 Value)
Buy Now
< >