Things I know, and things I think I know:

Nebraska arguably has its best group of receivers since ...

Let's say since 2006. Perhaps I'm jumping the gun. Dissenting views are encouraged.

This much is certain: The 2015 group is skilled and has good chemistry.

Yes, that's important.

"Coach 'W' always says we're the most professional group he's been around," said Nebraska senior Taariq Allen, referring to receivers coach Keith Williams. "As far as that goes, it's about how we prepare, how we study, how we conduct ourselves in the film room. Or how if somebody runs the wrong route or gets jammed up, we come together as a group and say, 'You should've done it like this or that.'"

Nebraska receivers were sharp Saturday against a proven (albeit banged-up) Minnesota defense — a nice response to a couple uneven performances against Illinois and Wisconsin.

There were too many drops against Illinois.

There were too many instances against Wisconsin in which the physical Badger secondary out-toughed Husker receivers.

In those two games combined, Nebraska receivers had only 10 catches for 122 yards and one touchdown. Against Minnesota, however, Jordan Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore, De'Mornay Pierson-El and Brandon Reilly combined to make 15 receptions for 231 yards and two touchdowns.

Terrell Newby helped open up the Huskers' passing game with his 69-yard touchdown run on NU's first possession.

"You have to make plays," Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "There are times when the coverage is good. So  the throw has to be great, the catch has to be great. We did that (Saturday). I thought we made some tough catches in traffic. We put the ball in an accurate position to make plays."

Don't forget the pass protection. It was an all-around good day for the offensive line.

As for the receivers, Westerkamp, a 6-foot, 195-pound junior, led the way with six receptions for 76 yards after being held to three for 16 in the previous two games combined. He needs only one reception to become the ninth Husker in history with 100.

"From Day One, he's been the kind of guy who's in the coach's pocket, who's in the film room studying, asking questions," Allen said. "It's funny. We clown on Westy for doing things like that, but it's what makes him great.

"Even if he runs the route right and makes a spectacular catch, he's asking how he can improve. That's what I notice most about Westy."

I'm sure Williams also appreciates Westerkamp's attention to detail, because it rubs off on all the receivers, including true freshman Stanley Morgan, a rising star who's getting a taste of the physical Big Ten.

It obviously raises Nebraska's profile to have Pierson-El back in the receivers fold, although coaches are bringing him along slowly in his return from a foot injury. But his fourth-quarter "tip-drill" reception showed his unique talent. His presence adds to my confidence in saying Williams' group just might be as salty as the 2006 Husker receiving corps.

That group was led by Maurice Purify, Terrence Nunn, Nate Swift, Todd Peterson, Frantz Hardy and tenacious blocker Dan Erickson. They helped Nebraska reach the Big 12 Championship Game.

Williams is interested mostly in week-to-week improvement. He echoes Allen's sentiments in saying the group's chemistry is a positive.

"They're hard workers," Williams said. "They're serious when it's time to be serious. It's not a whole bunch of goofing around. I don't have to corral them and get them focused when it's time to be focused.

"We do joke around and have our light times. But when it's time to be professional and focused, they kind of do it themselves. I don't have to remind them."

* Wouldn't be surprised at all if Mike Riley dials up his friend Jim Harbaugh. Maybe Riley already has made the call. If anyone acutely understands the debilitating heartache Michigan endured Saturday, it's Riley.

* Nebraska's pass defense is still only 50 percent (out of 100) of where it needs to be, defensive coordinator Mark Banker said after Saturday's game. He was smiling, but he wasn't kidding. The adjustment to a new system continues.

But, boy, the Huskers are a nasty run-stopping crew. 

Banker told defensive tackle Maliek Collins last week, "When a team runs on you, that's like ripping your heart out of your chest. We have to figure out a way to keep that (run-stopping prowess) going and continue to play better in pass coverage."

Preliminary thought: Northwestern comes along at a good time for Nebraska in that the Wildcats' passing game is so-so, at best.

* Brendan Bussmann, a key staff member for former Nebraska coach Frank Solich, objected to my recent column in which it was suggested that NU's recruiting suffered significantly when Solich was under extreme pressure to win in 2003. I think recruiting took a back seat.

Bussmann disagreed and stated, in part, "Unfortunately, the fruits of our labor were never able to be achieved because of the then-athletic director's personal agenda. Recruiting in 2003 tanked after Coach Solich and our staff were let go during a fumbled 40-day search process (for a new coach). Many of the problems that Nebraska football faces today stem from that personal agenda."

There's some truth in that statement, especially the agenda part.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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