Watching Nebraska's pregame warmups Saturday could be an awfully interesting, and important, exercise.
Who's playing and who's not?
Regarding the Huskers' key injuries, NU coach Scott Frost played it close to the vest this week as his team prepared to play third-ranked Oklahoma.
Make no mistake, though, the status of five injured Nebraska players on offense looms as one of the most critical storylines as the 11 a.m. kickoff (Fox) approaches.
All five players are potentially very valuable — each in his own way — to the Huskers' hopes of pulling off an upset.
We rank the five in terms of their potential impact. It's a difficult task, as each is capable of making a sizable difference.
1. Austin Allen, junior tight end: Keep in mind, Nebraska tight ends coach Sean Beckton has described Allen as an elite pass catcher and route runner. A 6-foot-9, 255-pound Aurora native, Allen seemed to pick up momentum with a four-catch, 61-yard performance Sept. 4 against Fordham (the 61 yards were a career-best mark).
He dragged defenders at times, eliciting cheers from the crowd. He emerged from the tunnel for warmups before last week's win against Buffalo with plenty of bounce in his step. He was clearly fired up for battle. Then, on Nebraska's opening series, he had an 8-yard reception. But the back of his head hit the ground hard as he was tackled.
He left for the locker room shortly thereafter and didn't return to the game. He's a team captain and veteran whom teammates can trust. A stabilizer. Plus, he's one of quarterback Adrian Martinez's key targets. By the way, NFL scouts are well-aware of Allen's capabilities.
2. Travis Vokolek, junior tight end: NFL scouts also have their eyes on the 6-6, 260-pound Vokolek, one of the team's most impressive physical specimens. He caught nine passes for 91 yards last season and is one of NU's best blockers, but is yet to play this season because of a left foot/ankle issue.
If you're a Nebraska fan, you surely hope to see Allen and Vokolek both healthy and ready to contribute, perhaps in double-TE sets, which could help bolster the struggling run game.
“They’re both really skilled pass catchers,” Frost has said of his veteran tight ends. “Both have become really good run blockers for us. We’re always looking for complete players, players who can do anything that you ask of somebody at that position in an offense. With both of those guys, we can leave them on the field no matter what play we call. I’m not sure I’d trade my tight ends for many around the country, if any.”
Say no more.
3. Oliver Martin, junior wide receiver: The 6-1, 200-pound Martin (knee) was Nebraska's leading receiver in the season-opening loss at Illinois, with six receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown, but hasn't played since.
Martinez targeted Martin 11 times against the Illini, five more targets than any other Husker receiver that day. Martin, who started four games late last season, could also be the player to whom Nebraska turns on punt returns, as he was back deep at least once against Illinois.
4. Zavier Betts, freshman wide receiver: A four-star talent coming out of Bellevue West, the 6-2, 200-pound Betts intrigues you with flashes of his speed and playmaking ability.
If he puts it all together, look out. He bolted for 17 yards on a fly sweep last week against Buffalo and also caught what would've been a 44-yard touchdown pass if not for a holding call that negated the play. He left the game after a 4-yard reception near the end of the first half and didn't return. Last season, he appeared in six games, with one start, and had 12 receptions for 131 yards and a TD. Bottom line, he has the physical gifts of a receiver you might see on Oklahoma's roster.
5. Omar Manning, junior wide receiver: You sometimes have to remind yourself he was the top-ranked junior college receiver in the class of 2020. He's a big, strong target who seemingly is starting to assert himself as a key cog. He had two receptions for 26 yards against Illinois and three for 54 against Fordham while making his first career start.
But the Texas native wore a boot on his left foot during warmups before the Buffalo game. Based on what I'm hearing, look for Manning and Betts to be available against Oklahoma. We'll see on the others. Yes, we'll be watching warmups intently.