Practice Makes Perfect — or Should Soon — for Nebraska on Game Day
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Practice Makes Perfect — or Should Soon — for Nebraska on Game Day

October 09, 2018

Devine Ozigbo sits atop Nebraska's depth chart at running back. It's a designation he received the week after the Huskers' matchup with Purdue on Sept. 29. Despite a loss to the Boilermakers, Ozigbo impressed with 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 attempts in that game. He also had two receptions for 28 yards.

Coach Scott Frost was pleased with Ozigbo's performance against Purdue. Freshman running back Maurice Washington had missed practice the week prior and Ozigbo stepped up.

“We weren’t going to play anyone that didn’t practice, and Devine practiced better than anybody else," Frost said following the Purdue game. "When he got hot, he was a warrior today, and I’ll go to battle with him.”

A big key in Frost's statement on Ozigbo is practice. It's something the senior has worked on in his time at Nebraska, but it never really fully clicked until this season. Facing a roster of players like Washington and former Nebraska running back Greg Bell (who recently transferred from the program) that wanted to play just as badly as he did, Ozigbo knew what he needed to do.

And that inspired him in one specific way.

"It was just really wanting to play," Ozigbo said following Tuesday's practice. "I knew if I could get into games, that's when I'd earn [the staff's] trust and respect but getting into games was the issue. Knowing practice was a big [reason for] it, I knew I had to make an effort to become more of a consistent and more of a hard working practice player."

There's a word that this staff does not like to use: "gamer." It's a word used by players who believe they are successful on the field, with or without practice. Ozigbo doesn't buy it. Players can say they're gamers, but they better be backing it up in practice.

Junior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry agrees. As he watches game film, he always knows what went wrong. And he can always point to practice as the culprit.

"It should be evident when you look at yourself in a game," Barry said. "I'm true to myself so when I see myself in a game, I say, 'Ah, I didn't emphasize that in practice and I messed up in the game so now, this week, I need to emphasize that key, that fit.' It's true, even with assignemnts and alignments and stuff like that, it's not . . . There's no such this called a gamer. It always comes back to bite you if you didn't emphasize that in your practice.

"I just think they have to see it. It's evident in the film and when you mess up on that, it's because you didn't hone in on [it during] the practice week."

Practice is also where players earn their playing time. Ozigbo and Barry may sit at the top of the depth chart at their respective positions, but it doesn't mean much to either if they stop working.

"Every day you've got to earn it," Ozigbo said. "It's not something you get and it sticks with you. You have to go out and get it every day. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to think about the depth and who is one and who is two, [but] just going through practice the best I can."

Practice has become very detail-oriented for players like Ozigbo and Barry. It all goes back to discipline, which the Huskers have struggled with on game day. The penalties have added up, which is easy to do when Nebraska has committed double-digit penalties in every game of 2018.

Adding insult to injury, the Huskers are last in the country in penalty yards per game (97.4) and second to last in flags per game (10.4). Frost said on Monday that he's frustrated by where Nebraska ranks with penalties. When 29 different players have committed a wide array of penalties (including 14 personal fouls), it's easy to understand why.

It all goes back to practice.

"We understand that as a team we have to be more disciplined and we have to hone in on our keys and our assignments and our alignments," Barry said. "That's what has hurt us in the past few games. That's the the biggest thing. I think we know we have the effort now and it's not that we don't play with passion and fire, but I think it's more that we need to be more disciplined as a team."

Yes, Nebraska needs discipline. And that discipline doesn't come from games. It comes from every little thing the Huskers do every other day of the week outside of Saturday.

The record still may be 0-5, but the Huskers believe they've turned a corner. And if they truly have, it started on the practice field.

Just ask Ozigbo.

"I think just growing up over my college career, just being able to practice better is something that has always been talked to me about," Ozigbo said. "It's something I've had to learn.

"Once I learned it and figured it out, it happened."

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