Photo Credit: John Peterson

Gabe Ervin Leads Running Back Room Through ‘Tough’ Performance Against Buffalo

September 11, 2021

Nebraska football’s offense had a good day overall in its 28-3 win over Buffalo, but one unit in particular had struggles. 

A week after multiple Husker running backs found success against Fordham, the group couldn’t get a lot going Saturday afternoon. 

Nebraska running backs had 16 rushes for 33 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Markese Stepp, who topped 100 yards last week, finished the win with nine carries for 17 yards. 

“Today was tough,” Stepp said postgame. “We got to run the ball better as a team, in order to win games we got to be able to establish the line of scrimmage and be able to run the ball. There were a few cuts I missed out there today that I could have been more patient on.” 

The team still finished the game over 5 yards per carry. That figure is mainly due to quarterback Adrian Martinez’s nine carry, 112-yard performance which included a 71-yard scamper. Martinez led the team in carries and yards last season, and that fact remains the same through three games this year. 

“Adrian, he’s playing at a high level. He’s been balling. It’s great to play with a quarterback that can run, because when the pocket breaks down he can really make something happen,” Stepp said. “… Now we just have to really establish the run game.” 

Against the two FBS opponents Nebraska has faced, the running backs haven’t seen much success. The room has combined for 50 carries and 160 yards in those matchups, or just 3.2 yards per rush. 

Ervin’s second half performance today is the only thing keeping that number above 3 yards per carry. After a slow start, he finished the game with 10 carries for 56 yards, including a 21-yard and two 11-yard runs in the second half. He also scored a pair of short touchdowns. 

“From the first half, not so great, we didn’t get in the holes,” Ervin said. “In the second half, I had that momentum, I got my rhythm, and I just saw the holes.” 

This was an important performance for the running back that started both of the Huskers’ first two games. Ervin had 50 rushing yards on 18 attempts coming into today.  

“After last week, (Ervin) was a little down, like any competitor would be,” Stepp said. “I’m happy for him, the way he bounced back today just shows you the type of kid he is.” 

Still, the group didn’t see the performance on the field as satisfactory. Linebacker JoJo Domann also has noticed the unit’s struggles, acknowledging that the in-game performance isn’t matching up with what they see in practice. 

“It looks better (in practice) than what they put out there today, which is the unfortunate part,” Domann said. “We’ve got to adjust. This game, a lot of stuff happens, and it’s all about how you respond.” 

Next up for the team will be Oklahoma, which held Tulane to 100 rushing yards on 32 carries in the season opener. 

The Huskers will likely continue to use a multiple-back approach against the Sooners. Stepp said the team has mostly been going with “who has the hot hand.” The key to improvement moving forward, according to Stepp, will be focusing on the details. 

“We all ran hard, but we could’ve done better,” Stepp said. “It’s not an effort thing, it’s not a talent thing, it’s really just coming down to the details. We just got to do our assignments and trust everybody else to do their assignments.”

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