Devine Ozigbo Is One of the Big Ten's Best Backs
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Devine Ozigbo Is One of the Big Ten’s Best Backs, Change My Mind

November 12, 2018

Did you ever see that meme of the guy sitting at a foldout table with a giant piece of white poster paper taped to the front?

One of those “[insert argument here], change my mind,” things? Remember that?

A meme created originally by comedian Steven Crowder in February of 2018. Clearly, it was meant to endorse Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo as an All-Big Ten selection at running back.

Ah, yes. There it is.

Well, that's it. That's what this column is about. Nebraska's senior running back has more than earned a spot on the All-Big Ten team announced at the end of the season.

You won't change my mind. Or head coach Scott Frost's for that matter. 

"To me, he’s playing at an All-Big Ten level," Frost said after Saturday's win over Illinois. "I know there are other good backs in this league, but Devine’s consistent for us and making plays every week. I’m so happy for him that he’s shown the type of character that it takes to persevere what he’s gone through."

We'll get to what he's gone through in a little bit, but let's start with the first part of that quote. The "other good backs" part. Because, yes, the Big Ten has a handful of other quality backs. Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor comes to mind. Penn State's Miles Sanders comes to mind. Illinois' Reggie Corbin comes to mind.

But Ziggy Stardust is doing stuff at an elite level right now.

With his 162-yard day against the Illini, Ozigbo hit the 150 mark for the fourth time this season. He didn't even have one in the three years prior to this season. One Nebraska player — not running back, player — has had four in a season since 2000. That was Ameer Abdullah. 

Ozigbo is at 7.54 yards a carry on the season. That ranks 15th in the country. Among guys averaging at least 10 carries a game, Ozigbo is fifth in average gain. He ranks 21st nationally in total rushing yards despite being tied for 82nd in total carries.

Think about that. 

There are 81 backs in college football that have run it more than Ozigbo this season, only 20 of those guys have more yards. And Ozigbo wasn't even the starter for the first three games. He has outright led Nebraska in carries just two times this season.

So, your honor, Exhibit A: Ozigbo is one of college football's most efficient running backs.  

Now on to the big ones, the chunk plays. Ozigbo has 26 of those this season (tied for 29th in 10-yard carries). He's got 11 runs that have gone for 20 yards or more. That's tied for eighth. He's got seven runs that have gone over 30 yards. That's tied for seventh. If Ziggy were to break just one more 20-yarder in his final two games, he would have as many 20-yard carries this year as he did 10-yard carries last year.

Entering this season, Ozigbo had 25 career runs that gained at least 10 yards. Again, he's got 26 this year.

The following is a ranking of the 10 running backs with the most carries in the Big Ten this season. The percentage next to their name indicates their explosive play percentage (how frequently they break a 10-yard-or-longer run).

  1. Jonathan Taylor (WISC): 17.1 percent
  2. Karan Higdon (MICH): 10.6 percent
  3. Stevie Scott (IND): 9.6 percent
  4. Miles Sanders (PSU): 19.3 percent
  5. JK Dobbins (OSU): 10.2 percent
  6. DJ Knox (PUR): 16.3 percent
  7. Devine Ozigbo (NEB): 20.4 percent
  8. Mike Weber (OSU): 19.7 percent
  9. Mohamed Ibrahim (MINN): 12.0 percent
  10. Reggie Corbin (ILL): 21.9 percent

Ozigbo is second on that list. (Look at the guy who has the best percentage. It's like Illinois has a pretty decent run game or something.)

"He’s still a big powerful guy but he’s gotten so fast, it’s crazy," senior guard Tanner Farmer said of Ozigbo. "Devine is running his butt off and giving the best he’s got and everybody else is doing what they need to do."

Most of Frost's praise has been about the speed Ozigbo has added to his game. When Ozigbo spoke to the media, he said it's not as much his top-end speed, but more his ability to stop and start and change directions faster.

“When we first got here I didn’t know what we had in Devine," Frost said. "Watching him last year, he's a completely different player from what I saw on tape last year."

The common criticism last season was that he would put his head down, crash into a pile and try to move it forward another few yards. This season Ozigbo is finding holes, making cuts, and bursting into the open field. 

Here he runs a defender over and then just runs away from everyone else.

"We all noticed it in fall camp," linebacker Luke Gifford said of the newfound burst. "That breakaway speed adds a different dimension to his game. He’s that big and he runs that hard, he’s not fun to tackle. I’m glad he’s on my team for sure."

So, your honor, Exhibit B: Ozigbo has also become one of the nation's best home-run hitters. 

Now to the other part of that initial Frost quote, the part about going through stuff. Ozigbo wasn't playing early in the season. Between Troy and Michigan, he logged 17 total touches. There was a point where Ozigbo wasn't taking practice as seriously as he needed to. 

One running back transferred this season because of a perceived slight. He felt he should have been getting more playing time. That back wasn't Ozigbo, but it very well could have been. No one entered this year thinking Ozigbo, the bruiser for the last regime, could carve out a starring role for the new regime's up-tempo attack. 

"He deserves a ton of credit for inheriting a new coaching staff, going to work, doing what we asked of him, being patient as we were playing some other guys and he was just in a rotation," Frost said. "He persevered through all of that. Sometimes in this day and age we want what we want right now and when we don’t get it, you leave, or you quit or you stop working.

"It says a lot about who Devine is that he kept going."

Reward him for it. 

Devine Ozigbo has earned a spot on the Big Ten's postseason all-conference team.

Try and change my mind.

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