The running back position was arguably the biggest question mark on Nebraska’s roster heading into Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game.
With USC transfer Markese Stepp out for the spring, the most experienced returner in Rahmir Johnson on ice as well and almost everybody else missing time at one pointer another, it’s been hard to get a feel for Ryan Held’s room.
All of the backs other than Stepp and Johnson were healthy on Saturday, and they made the most of their opportunities, ripping off some terrific runs that we’re highlighting here in a spring edition of the Plays of the Game.
We’ll start with one of the stars of spring ball who lived up to the billing when he got his first opportunity to play in front of the fans. The coaches mostly saved second-year walk-on Jaquez Yant for the live tackling portion of the game as seven of his nine carries came in the second half, but it didn’t make much of a difference as he bowled guys over left and right.
This was his first carry of the third quarter.
On first and 10, Yant took the handoff and looked ran off left tackle. He ran over the inside linebacker, brushed off a tackle attempt from the left defensive end sliding over and then got a bit of help from his left tackle, Nouredin Nouili, who held him up as he kept his legs churning.
Yant spun free and picked up another 6 or 7 yards before three defenders finally converged to get him to the ground. In total, the run went for 14 yards with half the defense getting a hand on Yant during the play.
Two plays later, Yant found pay dirt while displaying some speed and elusiveness on a 21-yard touchdown run.
The tight end kicked out and a lineman pulled around to pick off the linebacker trying to fill the hole, giving Yant plenty of space to run through. The wideout downfall occupied the corner enough that Yant ran right through a late diving tackle attempt. The only one left with a chance to make the play was the safety rotating over late, but Yant hit him with a stutter-step and powered through to find the end zone.
Yant picked up 63 yards on his nine carries, good for 7 yards a pop. Take out those two big runs shown above and he still averaged 4.0 yards per carry on the rest.
Yant isn’t the only big back on the team, however. Second-year freshman Marvin Scott III didn’t show a ton during the 2020 season, turning his 24 carries into just 62yards (2.6 per carry). He looked awfully spry on Saturday, though, and recorded the longest carry of the day.
Early in the third quarter, the Red team faced a third-and-1: definite Scott territory.
The offensive line got 3 or 4 yards of push right off the snap, so the first down was a given so long as Scott didn’t get caught in the backfield. A free defender came screaming off the edge, but the mesh point between quarterback and running back was enough to give the defender a moment of hesitation and Scott blew by him as the right guard pulled around to seal the edge.
The first 15 or 20 yards were a result of great scheme and execution, but the rest was all Scott. He ran through a diving tackle attempt, then spun through the second tackle a full speed while maintaining his balance. A defender finally dove on his back, but Scott dragged him for a couple more yards before hitting the turf.
In total, the run went from 39 yards, just over 60% this 2020 season total. He finished with 75 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
The second-longest run of the day came from another second-year walk-on in Isaiah Harris, the former Millard South Patriot. Harris was a big play waiting to happen every time he touched the ball in high school, and he showed off that ability on Saturday as well.
Harris got his second touch of the day late in the third quarter with the White team facing a fourth-and-1.
The quarterback handed the ball off to Harris while the offensive line did some work. The left tackle and left guard took care off the right outside linebacker and defensive end with their hands in the dirt, the right guard took on the nose tackle and the center and right tackle climbed to the second level to pick off the inside linebackers.
Harris got skinny in the hole, ran through an arm tackle to get to the second level and then beat the safety to the edge, showing off the wheels and running through an arm tackle attempt before crossing the goal line.
Here’s another view from the end zone.
The run went for 29 yards and six points, and Chase Contreraz’s ensuing extra point gave the White team its first lead at 14-13. Harris ran the ball five time for 52 yards in total.
Nine of the 10 running backs who played in the scrimmage on Saturday recorded at least one carry of 12 or more yards. Scholarship or walk-on, all of Nebraska’s backs showed what they could do on Saturday, and that’s why these runs were the Plays 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.