I’ve been fairly critical of Terrell Newby since he took over for Nebraska great Ameer Abdullah at running back in 2015. Going over the film after every game last year, it seemed that even when he was productive, Newby left yards on the field by dancing in the backfield or missing a hole or going down on first contact. Abdullah is an impossible standard for almost any running back to live up to, but the stark contrast between an NFL starting-caliber back and Newby, a guy who got what was blocked for him but rarely created much on his own, made it even more difficult to buy in on the Nebraska staff’s decision to ride their veteran over a couple of talented freshmen.
However, Newby has looked like a different back this season. The numbers aren’t mind-blowing – he’s averaging almost seven more yards on just half a carry more per game. In fact, sophomore Devine Ozigbo has emerged as the team’s primary workhorse back and is leading the team in carries. But turn on the tape and watch some of the runs Newby is making. He’s been decisive and he’s been finishing runs far better than last year.
“I’m just trying to take it one play at a time, never get too high, never get too down on myself on anything,” Newby said about the start to his senior season. “Take it one play at a time and let things happen.”
With Huskers going down seemingly every other play, the Huskers needed Newby more than ever before on Saturday as they tried to make a comeback against Illinois. Already down to their eighth offensive linemen and with tight end Cethan Carter and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp knocked out and wide receiver Alonzo Moore inactive, Nebraska lost Ozigbo late in the third quarter while trailing 16-10.
Entering the fourth quarter, Newby had carried the ball 11 times for 27 yards. However, that didn’t stop offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf from calling his number over and over again in the final frame. After Armstrong opened the quarter with a completion to Stanley Morgan, Newby carried the ball on five straight plays before ending up in the end zone, including the fourth-and-1 conversion we highlighted as our play of the game.
“I knew I’d kind of have to carry the load from then on when I saw Devine [Ozigbo] with an ankle injury, but I accepted it and did everything in my power to get the victory,” Newby said.
After a three-and-out by the defense, Langsdorf went right back to Newby and he stepped up even more, pounding the ball again and again. Newby accounted for 50 of the 59 yards on the touchdown drive that put the Huskers up 24-16. After losing the battle at the line of scrimmage for much of the game, the banged up offensive line finally started to turn the tide as the Huskers kept the ball on the ground for all but two plays on the drive.
“I think [the offensive line] started getting a lot of push,” Newby said. “They started to wear those guys down. That’s one of the things we take pride in. To see the defense getting tired, that’s what we thrive on.”
After yet another three-and-out by the defense, Newby needed just two carries to hit pay dirt, showcasing his speed and ripping off a game-sealing 63-yard touchdown run as the offensive line blew open a massive hole for him at the line of scrimmage.
“I mean, it was wide open,” Newby said. “It was a great push up front. It starts with the O-line. I think they did a great job, especially with a lot of guys going down. Real proud of them being able to go out there and show out. It started with them, and I was able to finish the run.”
Newby carried the ball 16 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns and caught one pass for 21 yards in the fourth quarter. In total, he touched the ball on 20 of Nebraska’s final 24 snaps. Newby showed patience, power and break-away speed as he put the Huskers on his back and carried them to victory.
“My thoughts about him have always been good and they went up a ton today,” Coach Mike Riley said. “I really have a lot of respect for what he did today. We were down. Devine was out, [Mikale] Wilbon was hurting, it was pretty thin. He stayed up and played physically tough, took care of the football and made big plays. You have to give the line some credit there. We started making some hay on some of those zone runs that we had. So they’re doing a good job there. I thought Newby was a real man today.
“I think that he is quietly one of our better workers, quietly well-respected. He’s not going to make a lot of noise, but I think everybody does have a lot of respect for him. I think he prepares himself at the top level for his senior year so he’s taking advantage of it and when it all came down to it today, when nobody else was left, he stepped up and played hard and made some great cuts and helped win the game.”
Riley is correct about the respect Newby has earned from his teammates, even those on the other side of the ball.
“I am always proud of ‘T’,” senior safety Nate Gerry said. “Terrell, he is always one of those guys that always works hard. He reminds me of Kevin Maurice on the defensive side. He does not say much, but he is a leader. A lot of people look up to him like he is a hard worker and that is one thing that a lot of people admire about Terrell is that he keeps his mouth quiet, and he keeps his head down and keeps calm.”
Newby’s performance was the highlight of a game defined by seniors stepping up. With right guard Tanner Farmer out of the lineup, Corey Whitaker made his first start. With Carter going down, Trey Foster and Sam Cotton had to be a threat in the passing game.
“We all have a role,” Newby said. “When our number is called we have to be able to be ready to play. So as a senior class, we want to be able to obviously win games, just do it big.”
As for Abdullah, he has long been one of Newby’s most ardent supporters, so of course the current Detroit Lion reached out to Newby via text after the game to say he was proud of the senior Husker.
Terrell Newby is probably never going to be a super-star. However, as a senior he is finally starting to show the talent that had him rated as a four-star recruit coming out of high school and it is making the Nebraska offense all the more dangerous.
“He’s having a great senior year and playing well,” senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said. “He knows that he is going to have some tough looks sometimes, but that guy is grinding. He has speed, is elusive and makes guys miss. Our running backs as a whole, those guys work their tails off and I try to get those guys great looks on zone reads and plays like that. Those guys understand that if we establish the running game, it opens up the pass.”
Next week’s bye should give the Nebraska offense some much-needed recovery time, but there’s no guarantee the Huskers will be back to full strength in two weeks when Nebraska travels to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers. Nebraska is going to have to rely on Newby again this season, and he looks far more capable of carrying that load than he did a season ago.