For a variety of reasons, Maurice Washington has struggled to make it through a full game so far this season. Whether it be suspension (he’s missed two halves this season) or getting banged up, Washington has struggled to play four quarters of football this season.
“That’s our goal is to get him into position to be able to do that,” running backs coach Ryan Held said. “I’m challenging him this week to have a great week of practice, which up to this point he’s done a really good job. I’m going to be on him to be a champion on Saturday and I’m going to be on him right before the deal, I might take a beer bottle and smash it over my head, whatever it takes to get him ready, just like the other guys. It’ll be 30 degrees, great; it’s good old fashioned football weather.”
Washington spent the first half of Saturday’s win over Northwestern on the bench, and Coach Scott Frost confirmed after the game that he chose to sit Washington for a half. The sophomore back was ineffective when he did get in the game, finishing with minus-1 yard on six touches.
“I held him out of the first half because of internal things and rules,” Frost said after the game. “Mo is such a special player, but we need to be able to rely on him all the time.”
From reiterated that message and issued challenge to Washington during his Monday press conference.
“We hold our players to a certain standard, and we want to help them to live up to that standard,” Frost said. “We held him out the first half. How did he respond? We’ll see how well he responds this week. We want him to come back and play well and come back and prepare well and get ready to play them, and if he does, this will all be water underneath the bridge. We need him to respond just like the rest of the team.”
So far this week, Held said he’s seen Washington respond the way that they wanted him to.
“I really have, and I’m not just saying that to please the media,” Held said. “He’s really come out and been focused and I’m going to keep challenging him; that’s my job as his position coach, that’s what I’m paid to do with all my guys. I’ve got to get him where he can help this football team for four quarters.”
Regardless of Washington’s status, Nebraska has relied upon Dedrick Mills to be the workhorse back alongside Adrian Martinez in the quarterback run game. Mills has carried the ball 10 or more times in five of his six games this season (whereas Washington has logged double-digit touches on the ground and through the air in just seven of his 17 games at Nebraska). Held said Mills has held up well so far this season.
“The running back position in this league is a big boy position, so you’re going to get hit, especially the last two weeks we’ve played two really good defenses, and we’ll play another one this weekend,” Held said. “He’s done well. We’ve got to be smart with our reps and everything to make sure everybody’s as fresh as they can be come Saturday. Guys have to continue to get in that weight room and maintain their strength.
“The beauty of this deal is we’ll let it all hang out on Saturday because we get a little time off next week to kind of regroup. But this is the last piece of this stanza so to speak, and then we get a week off and then we’ve got a two-game series, looking at a like baseball deal, and then a week off and a three-game stretch at the end.”
True freshman Rahmir Johnson got into the game against the Wildcats, his second appearance of the season, but he was only out there for one series (a three-and-out) and he did not touch the ball.
“Our plan is to do what we can to redshirt him,” Held said. “He’s got two more games. On Saturday, I wanted to get him in more. It just became a deal where you look up, we had 26, 27 plays in the first half. But he’s really been practicing well. We want to save these two games to be able to utilize him and save his redshirt year because he’s going to be a really good player for us. We just want to be smart if we can. Now, injuries or whatever and we don’t have a choice, that’s a whole ‘nother deal, but that’s kind of the goal with him is save the two games if we can and then go from there.”
Held said he’d feel comfortable running most of their offense with Johnson on the field at this point, though he doesn’t quite have everything down just yet.
“He’s close to being able to run everything,” Held said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable with 100% but he’s getting to where now after each week, he’s getting about 80 to 85%. There’s still 15% I want him to tighten up on but he’s coming out every day ready to go. I tell him ‘You’ve got to be ready’ each week, but he’s one guy that has definitely gotten better every week that we’ve been going in the season. I’m very pleased with his progress.”
Regardless of who shoulders the load against Minnesota on Saturday, don’t expect to see any of Nebraska’s running backs in a long-sleeve shirt regardless of how cold it is in Minneapolis.
“We’re not allowed to wear sleeves,” Held said, a rule he learned from Frank Solich. “You don’t wear sleeves, I don’t care if its 46 below zero, you don’t wear sleeves because you can’t feel the football. Once you get warmed up and loose, you’re fine. I’m sure they’ll have jackets and warmer deals on the side in between, when the defense is on. Stay loose. It’s a mindset. This is football, you can’t play in warm weather every week. In this league, you’ve got to be able to play in all kinds of weather. They’re going to play in it, we’re both going to play in it, it shouldn’t be a factor. We should be ready to go; if it’s 35-mile-an-hour winds and snow, let’s go.”
If snow does indeed fall, Nebraska’s running game will become even more important than it normally is. Mills will likely be ready, and Nebraska’s coaches are hoping Washington will be too.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.