Mike Riley said it succinctly, and probably said it best.
“Tyler Hoppes,” the Nebraska football coach said Monday. “That’s what I’ve been waiting to see there at that position.”
The hype that had built through the spring and fall for the senior tight end from Lincoln Southwest by way of Wayne State hadn’t translated to much in the way of on-field results through Nebraska’s first seven games.
Then the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder broke through against Purdue, with the Huskers needing all five of his catches for 105 yards in a 25-24 win.
“It feels amazing. That’s what I’ve been working for the whole offseason, doing that, and really building chemistry with Tanner (Lee), so it felt good,” Hoppes said after a recent practice. “I just every week came to work, just waiting for the opportunity to get that. But, a win’s more important than any catches.”
The win needed everything Hoppes gave it: the 27-yard touchdown catch with 11:09 left on which he got inside position on a smaller Purdue defender and tumbled into the end zone to get the Huskers within 24-19. The 17-yard grab on Nebraska’s game-winning drive that was the longest play of the march and ended with Hoppes getting out of bounds to stop the clock.
Hoppes’ big night marked the first 100-yard game for a Nebraska tight end since 2007, when Sean Hill caught three passes for 129 yards against Ball State. It was nearly more. Hoppes had catches of 12 and 22 yards wiped out by holding penalties.
“He was playing great. I think we’ve always been seeing how athletic Hoppes is and I have a lot of faith in his ability,” said Lee, who finished with a career-high 431 passing yards. “Especially when it came down to crunch time, he made a huge play on the corner route, got out of bounds. He caught a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter that was a really big play, but I love having him out there because he saves me a lot with a lot of great catches.”
Hoppes’ ability to make the tough catch stands out, and is a big reason he has emerged as a leader among Nebraska’s tight ends. But it took plenty of work behind the scenes for Hoppes to find himself in a starring roll.
“Technique is probably one of the biggest things. And he knows it, too. When his technique is good, obviously, he wins,” said his position coach, graduate assistant Tavita Thompson. “And that’s what it’s all about is winning your one-on-one battles, taking advantage of opportunities.
“In the past, as we all know, he’s had a couple opportunities that he should have had, and he didn’t. And those don’t come around very often, so you’ve got to take advantage of the ones that do come and build trust with the quarterback so he wants to deliver you the ball.”
Turns out technique, and a little patience, can go a long way.
“It’s a team game. It doesn’t mean you need five targets, this guy needs seven, whatever,” Hoppes said. “As long as we win, that’s the ultimate.”