Nebraska’s offense suffered a setback on Wednesday, as receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El was ruled out for six to eight weeks after a foot injury in fall camp. Pierson-El was slated to be a key piece of the Cornhuskers’ passing game in 2015 under new coach Mike Riley.
Pierson-El finished third on the team with 23 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns last season but expected to see more passes in his direction with the departure of Kenny Bell, along with Nebraska’s new offense under Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
The overall receiving totals don’t explain how valuable Pierson-El was to Nebraska last season. As a freshman in 2014, he was a dynamic punt returner, averaging 17.5 yards per return and scored three times.
In addition to his role on special teams, Pierson-El was pegged as an all-purpose threat for the Cornhuskers’ offense. At Oregon State, Riley and Langsdorf frequently used receivers on handoffs on fly sweeps or in quick passes in space. Pierson-El has the ability to be a dynamic gamechanger for the offense, and the new role was a great fit for his talent.
While Pierson-El’s absence will be felt on an offense transitioning to more of a pro-style approach from a spread, he could return for the meat of Nebraska’s season. The Cornhuskers play BYU, South Alabama, Miami, Southern Miss and Illinois before a critical Big Ten West showdown against Wisconsin on Oct. 10. There’s a good shot Pierson-El is back in the lineup before the game against the Badgers, which could decide the Big Ten West.
In the meantime, Nebraska can lean on an experienced core of Jordan Westerkamp, Jamal Turner, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore at receiver. But does this offense have a versatile, all-purpose threat to lean on until Pierson-El is back? That’s the key task for Riley and Langsdorf to decide in the remaining days of fall camp.
What adjustments will the Cornhuskers make for the opener? How will the offense change? Those are two key questions to watch against BYU, which certainly isn’t a guaranteed victory. And the road date at Miami gets a little tougher too with Pierson-El sidelined.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of fall camp for any college football team. While Pierson-El’s injury has to alter Nebraska’s gameplan just a bit early in the season, the dynamic sophomore should return in time for the biggest game on the schedule (Wisconsin). Not having Pierson-El for a full year is a setback. However, getting the sophomore back in time for a the Big Ten stretch is a huge plus for Riley and Langsdorf, as well as Nebraska's hopes of winning the Big Ten West Division.