It’s an incredibly rare occurrence that I’ve been able to start writing this story before the end of the first quarter, but that’s exactly what happened during Nebraska’s 56-7 win against Northwestern on Saturday night.
The Huskers took a deep shot on their first offensive play as Adrian Martinez hit Samori Touré for a 70-yard gain, setting up a short Martinez touchdown to spot Nebraska an early 7-0 lead. It was the second drive, however, that had everyone talking, and most of the yardage came on one play.
This week’s Play of the Game is Jaquez Yant’s 64-yard run.
Yant, the former walk-on out of Florida in his second year with the program, played a grand total of six snaps in Nebraska’s first five games. Yet when Nebraska sent the offense out there for its second drive, it was Yant in the backfield with Martinez.
On first down, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound back picked up 5 yards. Nebraska gave it to him again two plays later, and he gained a lot more than that.
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) October 3, 2021
On the snap, new starting left guard Nouredin Nouili pulled around and sealed the left defensive end to the inside. Right guard Matt Sichterman stonewalled the strong side defensive tackle while right tackle Turner Corcoran and tight end Austin Allen climbed to the second level to pick off the inside linebackers. Yant took the handoff and bounced it around the right end.
“The o-line, they blocked their behinds off,” Yant said. “They opened things up for me, so I just saw it and I took it. Basically we just took what we do in practice and we took it to the game.”
Chris Bergin, Northwestern’s top linebacker, had a shot at limiting Yant to a short gain, but the big back froze him in his tracks with a hard step to the inside then ran right around him. Yant cut it upfield just inside the numbers and hit the jets, running through the diving tackle attempt from All-Big Ten safety Brandon Joseph.
Yant ran for a long time after that, angling back across the field and keeping corner A.J. Hampton Jr. at an arm’s distance until the Wildcat finally ran him out of bounds at the 4-yard line.
“‘Holy Yant!’ That’s what I said,” Martinez said. “It was just nuts. ‘Yant’s homecoming.’ I was saying all types of things on the sideline. Really excited for him. A guy that sprints during walk-through. He’s just a stud. The stiff arm, all the little things, the guys loved it. He performed really well today.”
The Huskers gave Yant a well-deserved break to catch his breath, so he wasn’t able to finish it off himself, but Martinez took care of business for him two plays later with a 1-yard score.
Yant’s 64-yard run was the longest of the season by a Husker tailback. Previously, Gabe Ervin Jr. was the only back to top 20 yards. Yant carried the ball five more times in the first half and went into the locker room with 109 yards at the break. He finished with 13 carries for 127 yards.
Yant is the second Nebraska running back to top 100 yards in a game this season. The other is Markese Stepp, who did it against an FCS team in Fordham.
Yant emerged as a major storyline during the spring, and capped it off with a strong performance in the Red-White Spring Game, carrying the ball nine times for 63 yards and a touchdown.
However, running backs coach Ryan Held talked about the need for some of the guys in his room to get in better shape heading into the summer, and Yant was among them. He made his debut in garbage time against Fordham earlier this season, carrying the ball five times for 25 yards, but that was all.
“To be honest, Jaq had a really good spring and he showed up 25 pounds overweight to fall camp,” Coach Scott Frost said. “I told him I wasn’t going to play hm until he got to a certain point. In the meantime, he’s been learning he offense, learning what to do. He’s a really talented kid. I hope this is a first step, but he’s got to keep doing things the right way.”
After Gabe Ervin Jr.’s season-ending surgery, Held said they were “moving Yant up the ladder a little bit.” Saturday was his first opportunity to see the field with the game still in doubt, and he took advantage.
“It was worth the wait,” Yant said. “I got the opportunity, I took the chance and I went out and balled out. Everything happens for a reason … It was amazing. I continued to work, got my weight down like my coaches wanted, and went out and did what I was supposed to do each and every day.”
Saturday might have been the fans’ first real opportunity to see what Yant is capable of, but his big game didn’t come as a surprise to his teammates, particularly the ones he practices against every day.
“You don’t want him running angry, not even in practice,” JoJo Domann said. “Talented dude, physical, hard to bring down. On his long run, he does that in practice. He finishes runs in practice, even if its in shells. We’re just like, ‘Look at this dude running.’ But today, it showed. So hat off to him for stepping up today. Hat off to everybody for stepping up.”
Nebraska ran for a season-high 427 yards against Northwestern, and Yant was responsible for a large chunk of that. After a tough post-spring conversation with the coaching staff, Yant put in the work to become a factor in the running back room.
That’s why Jaquez Yant’s 64-yard run is this week’s Play of the Game.
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.