It may have come one game later than Nebraska’s coaching staff and fanbase would have liked, but it arrived nonetheless.
A strong rushing performance made its debut in 2021. Runs, runs and more runs—and under 25 passing attempts. Yes, despite a slow start, the Nebraska ground attack got on track in a 52-7 win against Fordham on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
In total, Nebraska rushed for 329 yards and six scores. The running backs had 50 carries for 225 yards and three touchdowns. The star of that group was Markese Stepp, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound USC transfer. He was strong on Saturday. He hit gaps hard and didn’t go down easy. His outing against Fordham was a different story than his Husker debut in Champaign, where he gained just 10 yards on three carries.
Stepp and the rest of the running backs expected to churn out the production they did against Fordham, an FCS program from the Bronx in New York City. They were supposed to do what they did against a team with less talent.
“We work every day really hard, and it wasn’t a surprise to me or anybody else because we know what we’re capable of if we do our job, don’t make mistakes and just have our assignments right,” Stepp said. “We can do this against any team, day in and day out. Last week, we beat ourselves I felt like. This was the game we were supposed to win, but you still have to respect the opponent you play, so there was no difference in the preparation from last week to this week.”
The rock was passed around quite a bit on Saturday. Stepp led the team with 101 rushing yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Sevion Morrison, who made the trip to Illinois but didn’t play, got on the field too and chipped in with 31 yards on nine touches. Morrison found the end zone the most out of the backs with two touchdowns.
Stepp heard the noise about his position group in the offseason. Was there even a good back on the team? Will any of them emerge? That created a chip on their shoulders. So for a close room like the Nebraska running backs have, when something good happens, they’re going to get excited.
“People were questioning what the running backs are going to do this year and all that, but we knew what we had in our room,” Stepp said after the win. “We continue to support each other, no matter who the hot hand is. We’re all close off the field, so that makes it even better. It’s genuine. When someone has success, I feel like we all have success.”
And on Saturday, there was a lot of success. Morrison had two touchdowns. Marvin Scott snuck in for one.
“We support each other every day because we hang out off the field every day,” Morrison said, “so it’s always like, we’ll play around here and there but as long as we know it’s competition, we know we’re making each other better and better.”
It didn’t matter that Stepp, who led the team in rushing yards, didn’t find the end zone.
“We emptied the clip,” he said of his room.
Stepp realizes that sometimes the run won’t be there to start, like it wasn’t against Illinois and Fordham. But he said that’s when the offense needs to stick with the game plan. That’s when it shouldn’t turn into an air raid attack, which Stepp knows all about after playing in Graham Harrell’s offense in LA last season.
If you keep hitting the defense over and over again, a long gain will break eventually. Defenses wear down after the big guys up front lean on them for four quarters. Stepp saw that against the Rams.
“I felt like we had a couple good long runs, and I feel like the o-line blocked their asses off,” Stepp said. “They were moving the line of scrimmage, and when they move the line of scrimmage it makes our job a lot easier, so hat’s off to them for doing their job. After taking all the criticism after last week, they came out here and did their thing today. I’m proud of them.”