Rewatching Anthony Grant’s biggest runs against North Dakota, there’s one that stands out in particular.
It’s not either of his touchdown runs, both of which were impressive. This one came immediately after Garrett Nelson’s strip sack in the third quarter.
The run started with a bobbled handoff, which Grant catches while still about five yards behind the line of scrimmage. There’s a big hole to the left, the direction the play was presumably designed to, and Grant runs into it. However, the delay allows a North Dakota defensive lineman to peel off and have a chance at taking down the running back for a big loss. Even if Grant continued that way and sped past, there’s another defender that likely would’ve been able to meet him near the line of scrimmage.
Instead of taking this, Grant spins — right into Trent Hixson. The ugly parts of the play end there. Grant bounces off his own lineman, bounces it out to the right hash marks, makes a hard cut to send another man to the floor, and with a comical crowd of seven pursuing North Dakota defenders in the television frame, he’s finally tripped up.
This 16-yard gain wasn’t his biggest run of the day or even the most impressive. There’s a few instances here where he probably should’ve been tackled for a loss, and maybe he would’ve against a Big Ten opponent.
But watching the play, one thing is solidified. Grant is not only good, but he is fun.
Through two weeks, he’s been the lead runner for the Huskers. He had a 100-yard performance against Northwestern, in which he didn’t stand out much until his 46-yard touchdown scamper. Last week’s 189-yard, two touchdown showing was a different case though.
He’s an enjoyable runner too, having the power to shrug off a tackler or two and the shiftiness to make them miss entirely. How much he attempts to dance around defenders may cause some fans stress, but you won’t see me complain.
Nebraska appears to have its best running back since at least the first two years of Scott Frost’s tenure. Barring injury, I feel he’s got a great shot of surpassing Dedrick Mills’ 2019 production, and a 1,000-yard year like Devine Ozigbo had in 2018 isn’t out of the question.
The question that remains is whether it’s too early to predict such great things for Grant. Frost was reluctant to crown him, and there’s multiple other players at the position the head coach seems to want involved. The competition will get harder after this weekend too.
As may already be clear, it’s hard for me not to fully buy in. I consider myself an enjoyer of the running back position. I’m not sure I’m a full-on “Run The Damn Ball” guy — I have no qualms with an air raid offense — but I appreciate a good run game with good running backs.
I started watching football at a good time, because the first Nebraska running back I really remember watching is Ameer Abdullah, with some loose memories of Rex Burkhead.
You don’t need me to tell you that Abdullah was electric. During the last game, I’ve seen Grant elicit comparisons to the star running back. He’s been called the best Husker back since then, which may be true, but I’d currently say he’s closer to Ozigbo than Abdullah in that gap. That’s no insult to Grant, but more an acknowledgement of how the other two deserve more credit in this conversation.
A lot of the comparisons also come from the similarities in style. The Huskers certainly haven’t had a running back run this way and be this good since Abdullah.
Anyway, I’m hesitant in saying much of this regarding a running back who has only played two games for Nebraska, if only because of precedent. If you asked me what Jaquez Yant’s current role would be after his 127-yard game against Northwestern last year, I wouldn’t have been close to his current predicament.
You could come up with a list of reasons for why Grant’s production could drop off significantly as the year goes on. The offensive line is a question mark. The Huskers may lean on the pass against future opponents. Ajay Allen, Jaquez Yant, Gabe Ervin Jr. and Rahmir Johnson all are still fighting for snaps. Allen is the de facto No. 2 back as of now, and Frost seems to want Ervin Jr. and Johnson on the field more.
Regardless of how everything else turns out with Nebraska football, the running back spot should be intriguing for the remainder of the season.
Whether or not Grant turns in more 100-yard showings is up in the air. Right now, all I ask and expect from Grant is that he remains fun.