Ozigbo finds groove as Huskers search for consistency in run game

October 2, 2018

Nebraska’s running back situation, like every other spot on the field, has become about who the NU coaching staff can trust.

And the Huskers trust Devine Ozigbo.

The senior’s best game in a Nebraska uniform — 17 carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue — came partly out of necessity. Freshman sensation Maurice Washington was sick all week, didn’t practice, and didn’t play against the Boilermakers. Greg Bell had a lackluster week of practice.

Meanwhile, Ozigbo shined during preparations. Then he took it to the field. It led Monday to a rejuvenated effort from Nebraska’s backs.

“Devine played all game because he practiced the best. We had one guy that was out all week sick, another guy that didn’t have a great week of practice and now those two guys had their best practice I’ve ever seen them have today,” NU head coach Scott Frost said Monday. “I trust Devine at this point, and Devine is one of the guys that is going to battle every time he’s out there, so we need him to keep it up and we need some guys to follow suit.”

Call him a “feature back” if you want, but Ozigbo has appeared to seize control of a position that had seen multiple players take on a leading role through the first month of the season.

What does it mean for Nebraska’s running game as it prepares to face Wisconsin’s traditionally stingy defense? Well, it might mean Ozigbo continues to get chances even if the Huskers’ early opportunities in the run game don’t produce much.

Getting into a rhythm Saturday, Ozigbo said, only helped as the game went on.

“You just go out there and not really worry about making mistakes; you’re just going out there and playing,” Ozigbo said Monday. “Things are just working out so you just keep pressing and keep doing what the coaches ask. They know what they’re doing and things will work out.

“It’s definitely good just going out there and being able not to worry about, ‘If I do this wrong it could be my last drive.’ I just go out there and try to make as big of impact as I could and do the right things.”

How the Huskers use quarterback Adrian Martinez in the run game could dictate carry distribution as well. The freshman ran 18 times (including two sacks and scrambles on pass plays) for 91 yards against Purdue and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

Bell finished the day with two carries for 2 yards. Nebraska’s only other rushing attempt went to JD Spielman and gained 3 yards.

“I don’t think it’s ideal to be rolling guys in and out all the time,” Frost said, “because nobody can get a rhythm.”

Rhythm could be hard to come by against the Badgers, who rank “only” 50th nationally against the run early in the season. Wisconsin has allowed 135 rushing yards per game and all of two rushing touchdowns through four games.

“That’s one thing we do know; we know their front seven is great. They’re all big, strong guys and they all play well and play smart, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Ozigbo said. “It’s like a little NFL team. Those guys are going to be very prepared. It’s definitely going to be a lot harder, but I think we can hit some runs.”

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