LINCOLN — Nebraska will play a tricky road game without two of its top pass-catchers, who are recovering from injuries sustained in the Huskers’ 31-16 win over Illinois.
Senior wideout Jordan Westerkamp (back) and Cethan Carter (elbow) should miss NU’s Oct. 15 game at Indiana, coach Mike Riley said Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference. The 3-1 Hoosiers just upset Michigan State at home and play at No. 2 Ohio State this week.
“I don’t think Jordan and Cethan will make it for the next game, but possibly for the game after that,” Riley said. Nebraska, with a bye, does not play this weekend, so Riley was projecting Westerkamp and Carter’s return for the Oct. 22 game against Purdue. “For about a 10-day period, it’s going to be how they feel with what they have, if they are able to perform pain-wise. It’s going to be a little while until we can tell exactly when they’ll be back.”
Both injuries were the result of on-field plays. Carter, who has 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown this season, was pulled down to the turf and appeared to hurt his elbow.
Westerkamp, who has 13 catches for 228 yards and four touchdowns this season, was hit hard by an Illini defender after catching a pass late in the third quarter. Westerkamp curled and writhed on the turf, stayed there, and immediately motioned with his hand for trainers. Westerkamp left the field under his own power, was taken by a cart to the locker room, and eventually went to — and was released from — a hospital as a precaution.
“It was an injury to his back,” Riley said of Westerkamp. “Right now, everything is very, very sore and tight. I think it’s just going to be a matter of how quickly it loosens up and how much better he can feel in a certain amount of time.”
If Carter and Westerkamp can’t play, No. 12 Nebraska has talented, experienced depth to replace them.
At tight end, both Sam Cotton and Trey Foster are fifth-year seniors and have played extensively in the last three seasons. Foster caught a touchdown pass against Illinois.
At wideout, Nebraska should get back senior Alonzo Moore, who has 12 catches for 310 yards this season and missed the Illinois game to recover from a shoulder injury. He’d be joined in the top group by senior Brandon Reilly, junior De’Mornay Pierson-El and sophomore Stanley Morgan. All three had catches in Saturday’s win over Illinois.
Westerkamp’s absence would still be notable. Should he not play at Indiana, it’d be the first full game he’s missed in his career.
The Huskers could also be without running back Devine Ozigbo, who sprained his ankle late in the third quarter and will not practice this week. He was in a walking boot on Sunday. His status for the Indiana game won’t be known until game week, Riley said.
Riley is “hopeful” Moore and right guard Tanner Farmer (ankle sprain) can return for the Indiana game. Neither played against Illinois.
“It appears the bye is coming at a good time for us,” Riley said.
Nebraska (5-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) has been hit particularly hard by injuries on the offensive line. On Saturday, the Huskers at one point had two current walk-ons — senior Sam Hahn and sophomore Cole Conrad — at left guard and right tackle, respectively. Hahn and Conrad have outplayed a number of scholarship players to move up the depth chart; their rise is similar to that of starting center and captain Dylan Utter, a former walk-on now on scholarship.
During one play Saturday, Nebraska’s offense had six current or former walk-ons on the field at the same time: Conrad; Hahn; Utter; Foster; and wideouts Gabe Rahn and Bryan Reimers.
“From where we are early in the program — the guys who are in the program — once we start practicing, they kind of lose that tag of ‘walk-on’ and they just get to earn where they are,” Riley said.
Riley said Nebraska is “fortunate” to have a player like Hahn — who originally signed with North Dakota State but transferred back to Nebraska — play left guard this season after presumed starter Jerald Foster injured his knee.
“He’s just been that guy who keeps working and pushing for his opportunity,” Riley said. “And when he got it, he’s done well for us.”
Conrad, a sophomore from Fremont Bergan High School, filled in for right tackle David Knevel, who’s working through an ankle injury.
“We have hopes for Cole as we go forward,” Riley said. “We try, as much as we can, to give guys an opportunity to prepare themselves and compete. And if they’ve earned that spot, they become the next man up. That’s what Sam did. That’s what Cole did.”