Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Football Spotlight: Anthony Grant’s Big Day against North Dakota

September 06, 2022

Before Saturday’s win against North Dakota, a Nebraska running back had topped both 20 carries and 150 yards in a game just twice during the Scott Frost era in Lincoln.

Dedrick Mills ran the ball 25 times for 191 yards in his final game as a Husker, Nebraska’s 28-21 win against Rutgers in the 2020 season finale. In 2018, Devine Ozigbo carried the rock 22 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-31 loss at Northwestern.

Anthony Grant joined that exclusive club with his 23-carry, 189-yard, two-score performance against the Fighting Hawks. He also earned co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors and had the -OR- removed from his name on the latest depth chart. Frost didn’t want to crown him after the game on Saturday, but he very much looks to be the clear RB1 for the Huskers.

The numbers looked really good, but the way he accumulated those numbers looked even better. Let’s take a closer look.

By my count, Grant met the first defender at or behind the line of scrimmage on nearly half of his carries, yet he only recorded 2 yards or less on five of his runs and ripped off some long gains despite having to make a defender miss before he even crossed the line of scrimmage.

Grant’s only run that didn’t gain yardage was his first carry of the day, and he never really had a chance on the play. He followed it up with a touchdown on his next touch, however.

Nebraska lined up in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) with two wideouts to the left and one to the right. Teddy Prochazka sealed the defensive end while Trent Hixson took on the nose tackle, leaving Turner Corcoran to climb to the second level. Hixson chucked his man but lost his footing, so he wasn’t able to hold his block.

The tackle attempted a diving arm tackle, but Grant ran right through it. He saw Corcoran sealing the linebacker to the inside and used a wicked jump cut to bounce it outside and break the ankles of a cornerback who peeled off his man to provide run support. Marcus Washington threw the final block downfield and Grant walked into the end zone for six.

Grant showed his ability to cut on a dime again early in the second quarter. On first down near midfield, Nebraska lined up with 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers). The Huskers used a tight formation with both tight ends and a receiver to the left.

Prochazka, Chancellor Brewington, Nate Boerkircher and Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda each made their blocks and opened up a nice hole. Grant took the handoff and initially starting heading towards the sideline, but he saw the defensive backs waiting and cut it back through the hole that Garcia-Castaneda and Prochazka opened up for him. Grant shrugged off a diving tackle from the safety and then picked up a few extra yards before a defender tackled him from behind. The play went for 12 yards.

Two carries later, Grant once again showed both his elusiveness and his toughness on what might have been his most impressive run of the day. Nebraska used 11 personnel and had Trey Palmer shift into the backfield for an orbit motion as a decoy.

Grant took the handoff as the offensive line got good push. However, Boerkircher left the defensive end unblocked to try to reach the linebacker at the second level, giving the end a free path to the backfield. Grant shrugged off the linebacker’s arm tackle attempt and almost in the same motion evaded the linebacker (who Boerkircher wasn’t able to seal off).

Grant started running right but saw another linebacker coming at him, so he planted his feet and cut it back the other way. He picked up a few yards before one, then two, then three defenders converged on him, and the third one was finally able to drag him down after a gain of 7.  I counted five defenders who had a chance to take him down and failed before the seventh finally finished the play.

Catastrophe nearly struck two carries later, but Grant managed to turn a near-mistake into a big gain thanks again to some terrific footwork. Thanks to Garrett Nelson’s forced fumble, Nebraska took over in North Dakota territory. The Huskers lined up in 11 personnel and as Casey Thompson tried to hand the ball off to his back, Grant bobbled it.

Grant showed off terrific concentration to secure the ball after the bobble, and after he did the first thing he saw was a defensive tackle in front of him. He reacted quickly with a spin move back to the middle, and after bumping into Hixson he began reversing field. He avoided one defender who shot into the backfield and turned upfield, showing off his speed. He snatched a pair of ankles from a defensive back with a subtle cut then nearly avoided a second DB before getting tripped up. He gained 16 yards on a play that probably shouldn’t have left the backfield and was very close to ending in a turnover.

Drake Keeler named Anthony Grant’s 46-yard go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter the Play of the Game on Saturday, so go there for a breakdown of that play.

The final run we’ll focus on came early in the fourth quarter with the Huskers still leading by just a score. Nebraska lined up with two pass catchers to the right, one to the left and Trey Palmer in the backfield alongside Grant. Before the snap, Thompson motioned Palmer out to the right then handed off the ball to Grant for a run to the left.

Prochazka and Washington threw terrific blocks to seal the edge, leaving Grant one-on-one with the boundary corner. Grant beat the corner to the edge with the help of a subtle stutter-step then turned up the sideline as the corner’s hands slid right off him. Grant used another jump cut to avoid a linebacker, but another Fighting Hawk was there to take him down. Grant gained 17 yards on the first play after Palmer gave the Huskers a new set of downs with his 31-yard catch on third-and-14. The Huskers eventually turned the drive into points to double the lead.

The Huskers needed some heroics from Grant early on, but as the game played out the bigger Nebraska line began to wear down the North Dakota defense, and yards came more easily. Still, Grant showed that he can execute the play and pick up whatever yards the line can create for him in addition to freelancing and making something out of nothing.

Oh, and Grant is more than just a ball-carrier. Here are a few of his best blitz pick-ups from the first two weeks of the season.

Nebraska hasn’t targeted him much in the passing game just yet, but he did have a nice catch-and-run in the Northwestern game that showed off what he can do as a receiver.

Some of the stuff Grant did against North Dakota likely isn’t replicable against Big Ten competition, but after 42 carries for 290 yards in his first two games as a Husker, there’s no denying he’s found a way to be productive even when the blocking hasn’t been perfect. Grant has shown off an intriguing mix of skills with his refusal to go down on first contact, his nimble feet and his ability to function as a third-down back as both a blocker and a receiver.

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