In Nebraska’s loss to Wisconsin, two running backs and a wide receiver got carries.
The notable thing about that is none of the three players had touched the ball in a game in over a month-and-a-half.
Largely due to necessity, the Huskers had to throw in some new players against the Badgers.
The normal starter as of recently, Rahmir Johnson, was injured against Ohio State and wasn’t healthy enough to play. Gabe Ervin had a major injury earlier this year, and Sevion Morrison recently left the program.
Earlier this week, head coach Scott Frost mentioned Jaquez Yant, Marvin Scott III and Markese Stepp as the top candidates to see the field against Wisconsin. Scott was one of the more interesting names mentioned, given that he only had seen the field once this year against Fordham.
The freshman back made an impact regardless. He had only nine carries for 29 yards, but scored a touchdown to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
“We were thin there and he got his opportunities,” Frost said postgame. “I thought he did some really good things, it was good to see.”
Yant, surprisingly, didn’t play at all. Brody Belt, who is listed as a wide receiver but started his Husker career at running back, led the team in rushing yards with 31. Markese Stepp received nine carries and had 18 yards and the team’s first touchdown.
Stepp was a more constant fixture in the rotation earlier in the year, but has struggled to see playing time since. He came in late as a pass protector against Ohio State, but didn’t touch the ball.
Earlier this week, Stepp mentioned that he was frustrated with the recent lack of carries, but said he’d keep working to get back into the rotation.
“I feel like when you’re down, the only way to get you out of the position you are in is continue to attack it,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been playing well, if the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.”
None of the backs truly impressed in the game against the nation’s top run defense. However, Stepp, Scott and Belt all had their flashes.
“We have a pack of running backs, they’re all good players,” Frost said. “Nobody’s really separated.”
Other new faces made their appearance in the game as well. Thomas Fidone hadn’t played this year due to a knee injury, but the freshman tight end came into Saturday’s game on multiple occasions in goal line packages.
“I had a nice little ‘Welcome to the Big Ten’ hit, so it was good,” Fidone said about his first game appearance.
On the defensive side, Blaise Gunnerson and Nash Hutmacher got extended playing time for the first time this year due to injuries. Gunnerson recorded two tackles in the game. Afterward, Frost added that Gunnerson—alongside Jimari Butler—were “both doing a great job” in stepping up when needed.
There might be more playing time to come for some of these players in the season finale depending on how injury situations and practices shake out.
Although he’s happy to see some new faces gain experience, Frost won’t lower his standards for those players.
“We’re beat up, everybody’s beat up this time of year. That’s not an excuse,” Frost said. “It’s good, we’re getting those kids experience, we got to be a little bit better and make those plays when they matter.”