Mailbag: Nebraska's Most-Likely Breakout Candidate on Saturday
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Hot Reads: Dedrick Mills Is Coming for it All

August 27, 2019

Dedrick Mills is coming for it all.

Well, maybe just half of it depending upon how things work out, but we'll get to that.

First, Mills. The Garden City Community College transfer and former Georgia Tech running back was listed alongside Maurice Washington as co-No. 1 on Nebraska's depth chart on Monday. When asked about his expectations for his first season in Lincoln, Mills said this:

“My expectations for yards this season are probably up to 1,500 or more if I can get it with the help of the O-line and my quarterback.”

That's a lot. When I was setting the totals for this over/under post, I thought I was being pretty realistic. When it came to yards for Nebraska's leading rusher, I put it at 850. Three of our five staff members took the under.

Mills? Over. Way over. Fifteen hundred yards is 76% more than 850.

I guess it's not impossible for Nebraska's new running back to hit that number. There are a couple of ways to look at this.

1. How many rushers have 1,500 yards or more in a season?

This is kind of an interesting decade-long look at the number of 1,500-yard rushers in FBS football each season. There were just five a year ago, the lowest total of the last 10 years.

Kind of an interesting crescendo there in 2014. That year, the Big Ten alone had six backs go for 1,500 yards or more: Melvin Gordon (WIS), Tevin Coleman (IND), Ezekiel Elliot (OSU), David Cobb (MIN), Ameer Abdullah (NEB) and Jeremy Langford (MSU).

Abdullah had the sixth-best rushing season in Nebraska's history (1,611 yards) and only finished fifth in total rushing yards in the conference. It was a bizarrely ground-based year. On that note . . . 

2. How many Huskers have rushed for 1,500 yards or more in a season?

Six. Abdullah's 2014 season was the last one in which a Husker topped 1,500 yards. He also did it in 2013, rushing for 1,690 yards.

Here's the ranking of the top six rushing seasons at Nebraska by total yards:

1. Mike Rozier, 1983, 2,148 yards
2. Ahman Green, 1997, 1,877 yards
3. Lawrence Phillips, 1994, 1,722 yards
4. Ameer Abdullah, 2013, 1,690 yards
5. Mike Rozier, 1982, 1,689 yards
6. Ameer Abdullah, 2014, 1,611 yards

Note: Ken Clark (1988) joins this list at No. 7 if you include bowl game stats, which were not counted at the time.

That's a pretty select group. If you thought the Huskers, a program that led the nation in rushing 13 times between 1980 and 2001, would've had more 1,500-yard rushers, well, it's hard to do. You either need first-day-of-the-draft individual talent, or an offense that really leans on one guy. Offenses that use multiple rushers, including the quarterback (like the option or Nebraska's 2019 offense presumably), make that pretty tough.

But not impossible.

3. How many backs in this offense have rushed for 1,500 yards or more in a season?

Three backs did it five different times during the Chip Kelly/Scott Frost years at Oregon: Royce Freeman (2015), Kenjon Barner (2012) and LaMichael James (2009, 2010, 2011). Those five Duck teams all ranked in the top six in team rushing and rushed for at least 3,000 yards. Two of those teams rushed for more than 4,000 yards.

That's where the "half of it" part comes in. If Mills hopes to hit 1,500, Nebraska is very likely going to need to hit 3,000 yards as a team. That's not inconceivable. It's about 230 yards per game.

Nebraska averaged 209 yards per game for a total of 2,508 last year. Can the Huskers improve on that despite losing Devine Ozigbo and two starters on the offensive line? To say yes is an optimistic view, but not necessarily unrealistic. I think 3,000 yards certainly could be in play.

I'm not ready to say yet that Mills will account for half of that total, but he should definitely be saying it. If he doesn't believe it for himself, who will?

And if he does, very good things are in store for Nebraska in 2019.

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