If we look for bright spots from the Nebraska 2022 Shit Show, aka Another Team With A Crap Record That Should’ve Gone to a Bowl Game, the improvement in special teams would have to be near the top of that list.
Now to be fair, the improvement could best be listed as follows:
2021 - Special teams was honestly horrid/snakebit/both in every category except kickoff returns where it ranked a combination between below-average and “FOR F*CK SAKE - JUST FAIR CATCH IT AND TAKE IT ON THE 25!!!!”
2022 - The downside? That was also kickoff returns in 2022. However, the placekicking game with Timmy Bleekrode (9/12 FG’s, 34/35 XP’s) made extra points and short field goals a much calmer experience for Husker faithful. And Brian Buschini actually was a top 25 punter in D1 and could bury kicks well inside the 20.
Punt returns? Wellll…Trey Palmer and Oliver Martin manned those - except Palmer only got in there if the opposition was punting from deep in their own territory. In other words, we spent most of the season watching Oliver Martin do his best Santino Panico impression making fair catches between his own 8 and 20 yard line. However, there weren’t multiple disasters, or really any at all, so that was actually a major upgrade.
#18 - Brian Buschini - Jr - Helena, MT - In 2021, was the FCS Punter of the Year and 1st Team All-American at Montana. In 2022, after transferring from Montana, averaged 44 YPK, downed 14 punts inside the 20 and uncorked a 74 yarder against Wisconsin.
The job is Buschini’s for the next 2 years. Given the horrors of the punting game in 2021, his transfer was nothing short of a lifesaver for the Huskers. Barring injury, he will be a fixture for the next 2 seasons.
#90 - Jacob Hohl - Jr - Lincoln - Transferred to Nebraska in 2022 after 2 seasons at Nebraska Weslyan where he averaged 40 YPK in 2021.
A Lincoln SW grad, Hohl would appear to be a solid replacement should Buschini and Bleekrode be forced to miss any time.
#38 - Timmy Bleekrode - JR - Atlanta - After transferring from Furman (NC), Bleekrode connected on 9/12 FG’s and 34/35 XP’s.
After a couple of seasons which had Husker fans holding their breath on extra points and short field goals, then bursting into highly sarcastic applause whenever they were made, Bleekrode was much appreciated by a grateful fandom. He also added a 51-yard punt when called on in the Oklahoma game (He was a 2nd Team All-Conference punter at Furman). Oddly enough, his reward could be facing an immediate challenge from an incoming freshman in the fall -see below.
Tristan Alvano - Incoming Fr - Omaha - The soon-to-be Westside graduate kicked 16 FG’s his senior year (a Nebraska record) and was 119/120 on XP’s for his career. He was 141/225 on touchbacks including 73 his senior year. Rated as a 5-star recruit and the #6 HS kicker in the country by Kohl’s Kicking
A look at the stats above confirms Alvano may be challenging for kicking duties in the fall. In addition, he also booted a 50-yarder last season as compared to Bleekrode’s long of 43 yards. Making the assumption his leg will only get stronger with age, he could factor into kickoff duties as well.
#79 - Spencer Pankratz - So - Highlands Ranch, CO - Transferred from Furrman in 2022 along with Bleekrode and is a graduate of Valor Christian HS in Colorado.
Given the depth chart in front of him, odds of ever seeing him on the field are low.
#15 - Billy Kemp IV - Sr - Richmond, VA - A 2023 transfer from Virginia, Kemp returned 64 punts with 5.8 yard avg. and 8 kickoffs for 19.8.
Kemp is the name being used most often when discussing potential returners, but, given his averages, it shouldn’t be any surprise that several others are being given long looks. Xavier Betts reportedly has been fielding punts. Anthony Grant, Josh Fleeks and Rahmir Johnson all have returned kickoffs and Gabe Ervin may be an option as well given his speed.
Rhule has mentioned wanting to spring some big plays on returns, however that will require some new return formation looks from Special Teams Coach Ed Foley. In recent years, both kickoff and punt returners for the Huskers have seldom had much daylight to work with usually being quickly swarmed.
The recruiting trail desperately needs to find its way to the next Demornay Pierson-el (freshman year edition).