As the door closes on starter Tre Bryant’s 2017 season with Nebraska, the one for junior Devine Ozigbo appears to now be wide open.
“Right now, Devine and Mikale [Wilbon] are the guys that have been rolling,” running backs coach Reggie Davis said. “Devine’s been running real well so we’re leaning towards him right now.”
Davis said redshirt freshman wideout JD Spielman – who has experience playing in the backfield – has gotten looks this week at tailback and the Huskers could use him in new ways on Saturday against Purdue (possibly another change the team decided on during the bye), but it’s Ozigbo that provides the intrigue. When any coach has spoken this week, the desire to run the ball has been evident.
Ozigbo sat on the bench for the first two games of the season. He had just two carries in week three. But, if you were to take the last three games, a stretch in which he was the unquestioned guy in the backfield, and apply Ozigbo’s numbers over a full 12-game season you’re looking at a 1,200-yard rusher in the Nebraska backfield.
“For me personally I’ve always tried to practice, tried to play when I get in the games like I am the guy,” Ozigbo said. “It doesn’t really matter when or what the rotation is, I’m just trying to have my best practice, my best game. Everybody just prepares to be the guy.”
Even though Bryant is officially gone, Ozigbo said things won’t change. The Huskers haven’t gotten a yard of in-game production from Bryant in over a month, and even when they were, Ozigbo said he was still preparing the same way. He wants to get on the field. He doesn’t get caught up in who gets the start or the first carry, he cares about the performance.
“The results are all that really matter,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter who gets the start, it’s just who has the performance and who’s the guy that’s featured. If I don’t get a snap until the second half, but I have a pretty good second half, I’ll be okay, that’ll be okay with me and I’ll hope the guy that did get the start in the first half had a pretty good first half.”
Danny Langsdorf and head coach Mike Riley like what they’ve seen from Ozigbo, they just want more consistency from down to down. Riley said a more effective ground game can help a Nebraska offense that has stalled of sorts and hasn’t topped 30 points since the first two games of the season. That’s not a hot take for a coach to make (especially at a place like Nebraska), it’s a freezing cold fact.
So, over Nebraska’s bye week, the running back room went back to work on the basics.
“We really went back to fundamentals,” Davis said. “Pass-pro-wise, how we’re reading some of our plays, making sure our footwork is tight, making sure with our route running that we’re where we need to be on the field because a lot of times our routes are complimentary routes to other routes the receivers are doing. Just a lot of the little things that we wanted to make sure we really tightened up on.”
Ozigbo said the team has done a good job of distributing the reps in practice. Even if one back gets the lion’s share of the work in game, Ozigbo said they want everybody to have enough reps during the week “to feel comfortable to go in.” Still, it seems like Ozigbo has become the guy for Nebraska.
He’s 28 yards away from 1,000 in his career – something he didn’t even know about until an old high school coach brought it to his attention – and figures to get there on Saturday against a Boilermakers defense that has been middle of the pack nationally defending the run.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.