Nebraska: Behind Ozigbo, ground game gets a foothold
For all the talk of a high-tempo approach and a highly regarded freshman quarterback, the Nebraska offense still runs best when it runs first.
The Cornhuskers are finally assembling a Nebraska-like running game.
And nobody exemplifies that better than Devine Ozigbo, the emerging star who wasn’t supposed to be emerging or a star.
Ozigbo, listed at 6 feet, 235 pounds, is someone Nebraska can point out to recruits as a player who stuck with the program, endured lean times and reaped the benefits from the coaching staff’s new direction, not to mention his own desire to develop.
On Saturday in a 53-28 Big Ten victory against Minnesota, Ozigbo had 100 rushing yards in the first quarter and finished with 152 on just 12 carries. That included a 59-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career.
The senior has risen to 12th in the country at 7.1 yards per carry and has three 150-yard games in the past four weeks; he had none in his four-year Big Red career before that.
“Devine was in a three-way battle at running back. He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said after Saturday’s victory. “He has been a really good player and workhorse for us. He is a Sunday guy. I think our strength and conditioning staff has helped him. He is a step faster and he has been making big plays for us. He has become a leader.”
The senior was only a 3-star recruit coming out of high school in Sachse, Texas, and the 13th-rated recruit in Nebraska’s Class of 2015. But here he is, starting in front of Maurice Washington, a 4-star who was rated the No. 3 Cornhuskers recruit in the 2018 class and is the presumptive 2019 starter.
Ozigbo also outlasted Greg Bell, the top junior college running back recruit in the country over the summer. Bell gained 173 yards on 35 carries for the Cornhuskers but decided to transfer midseason.
On Saturday, the Cornhuskers had three 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time since a 2010 regular-season meeting with Washington.
That was just the capper to a trend: Nebraska is tied for 26th in FBS in rushing yards at 219.9 per game. Against Minnesota, quarterback Adrian Martinez had 125 yards on 15 rushes and Washington had 109 on 14 carries. That all came against the same Minnesota defense which shut down Ohio State’s ground game the week before.
It all added up to the most points and total yards Nebraska has had since joining the B1G in 2011. And the 659 yards of total offense were the most for Nebraska since it gained 784 against Florida Atlantic in 2014.
And even with Martinez’s increasing effectiveness as a passer, a good offense at Nebraska still starts with the running game.
Hasn’t it always?