I never had the opportunity to see Nebraska football legend Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers live. My only knowledge of his on-the-field exploits is limited to video, books and anecdotes. I’ve shook the man’s hand, seen the Heisman Trophy he won and heard the tales about how people used to say he was worth 14 points per game.
I don’t refer to people as “the next” anyone. I don’t think that’s fair as we all have the right to write our own legacies, especially in sports. I will say this, though: while De’Mornay Pierson-El is not “the next” Johnny Rodgers, he is incredibly electric and has a spark Nebraska could really use right now.
No. 15’s been out of action since fall practice with a foot injury and his absence has affected Husker football. With him, the Big Red may be 4-0 right now. He’s that good. You’ll have to pardon a fan base that’s a might miffed over a 2-2 start to the season for being jacked about his return.
Cleveland had LeBron James' “Return,” Nebraska has DPE’s.
While no one has any delusions of him running back punt returns for scores or catching one-handed touchdown passes, there are things he can do to not only help the Huskers defeat Illinois, but do so in a more convincing fashion than many Big Red fans may expect.
If you’re Tim Banks and Mike Phair (Illinois’ co-defensive coordinators for the uninitiated), you know Pierson-El isn’t 100 percent, but he’s still a danger that has to be acknowledged.
Could Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf be using him as a decoy? Is the personnel package tipping its hand for a fly sweep or a reverse? Have to be ready for both.
What if both are fakes and it’s a handoff to Andy Janovich up the gut or an out route to Jordan Westerkamp?
This is what Pierson-El brings to the table. He is the unknown, the X-Factor, the question mark.
Plenty of fans would rather he not even play versus Illinois and I understand their reasoning. Why run the risk of him re-injuring himself or what if he's no use on the field in his limited capacity?
Well, football being what it is, you can’t play scared. It’s not that Mike Riley and his band of merry men don’t have their focus on Illinois, but playing Pierson-El is part of the grand scheme of things.
The running game has to get the gunk out of its wheels, penalties have to be cleaned up (or played to if refs are going to call Illegal Formation like it’s going out of style) and everyone knows the score about Mark Banker’s defense such as it is.
DPE’s part of beating Illinois, but he also needs to knock the rust off because the Huskers are going to need every possible positive against the Wisconsin Badgers, let alone every opponent past them.
Despite Wisconsin losing running back Corey Clement (sports hernia surgery), that’s going to be a physical game and having a guy like Pierson-El on your side can break the back of an opponent in the blink of an eye.
If Nebraska’s going to win the Big Ten West, it needs to deck a mid-level team like Illinois and drop one of (if not the) division’s big boys in the Badgers.
That’s where Pierson-El and his "million dollar moves" come in.