116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Friday’s Iowa-Nebraska game will feature two football teams that have relied on much different ways of building a roster.
Iowa has continued to lean heavily on high school recruiting and trusted its developmental process. Nebraska, in contrast, has turned to the pool of talent in the transfer portal as a way to quickly retool.
Here are five Nebraska players to watch as the teams from neighboring states with opposite strategies clash:
QB Casey Thompson
After four years at Texas, Casey Thompson has stepped into the starting role in his first year at Nebraska.
The transfer quarterback has completed 62.7 percent of his passes while throwing 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Thompson missed time earlier in the season with an arm injury, but returned for the first time in Nebraska’s 15-14 loss to Wisconsin last weekend. He was 12-for-20 with two touchdowns.
He hit a snag earlier in the season, throwing multiple interceptions in three consecutive games in October.
Thompson was a four-star recruit in the 2018 class and had offers from some college football blue-bloods, including Ohio State and Oregon, before choosing Texas.
He played in seven games combined in his first three years on Texas’ campus, but earned the starting job early in the 2021 season. He finished the year with 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a completion percentage of 63.2.
Thompson’s departure from Austin happened after Texas lured former five-star recruit Quinn Ewers to the Longhorns via the transfer portal.
DB Malcolm Hartzog
Malcolm Hartzog has made a quick impact on the Nebraska secondary.
He became the first true freshman at Nebraska to start at cornerback since 2016 after getting the starting nod against Indiana on Oct. 1. He grabbed his first career interception a week later.
Hartzog’s three interceptions this season are as many as the two next-best Nebraska defensive backs combined.
Opposing quarterbacks have only completed 46.4 percent of passes when throwing to the receiver Hartzog is covering, per Pro Football Focus.
WR Trey Palmer
Trey Palmer transferred from LSU to Nebraska and is putting up the best numbers of his career in 2022.
The Kentwood, La., native has 62 receptions for 878 yards and seven touchdowns — more than his first three years in Baton Rouge combined.
Palmer showed what he’s capable of in Nebraska’s 43-37 loss to Purdue earlier this season. The 6-foot-1 wideout had seven catches for 237 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 13 targets.
He has not exceeded 50 receiving yards in a game since the Oct. 15 trip to Purdue, though.
Edge Garrett Nelson
On a team with a lot of turnover from the transfer portal, Garrett Nelson has been a constant on Nebraska’s defense.
The last time Nebraska played a game without Nelson starting in it, Nate Stanley was Iowa’s quarterback, “Circles” by Post Malone was the Billboard top song and the person writing this article was still in college.
Nelson has started the last 31 games for the Huskers.
The Scottsbluff, Neb., native has been quite effective in those 31 games. He leads the Huskers with nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2022. He also led the team in those categories in 2021.
But just like the rest of the Huskers, Nelson has yet to defeat the Hawkeyes.
“They are Iowa,” Nelson said about this week’s game. “We obviously have a chip on our shoulder with those guys.”
Edge Ochaun Mathis
Ochaun Mathis was among the higher profile additions Nebraska had via the transfer portal over the offseason.
On3 rated the former TCU defensive lineman as Nebraska’s top transfer portal addition of the 2022 offseason.
Mathis earned all-Big 12 second-team honors in 2020 and 2021.
He started 34 consecutive games for the Horned Frogs before transferring. The only games he did not start at TCU were during his redshirt season.
Now as a Husker, Mathis has five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2022. Both numbers are among the top three on the team.