Wan’Dale Robinson had five touches after the first quarter and 12 total at the halftime break.
The Huskers probably had hopes of springing him for a play or two that didn’t pan out, but after three weeks of talking about needing to simply get the ball into the hands of their best playmaker, talk finally translated to action on the field. Robinson, a sophomore, had 21 total touches in the Huskers’ 30-23 win over Penn State.
He had 10 total through the first two games, and didn’t register a single rushing attempt after logging 88 a season ago.
Nebraska is fighting a little bit of conflict there. One could make the argument Robinson’s usage last season as a true freshman—running a 5-foot-10 slot guy between the tackles often against Big Ten defenses—played a part in his late-injury. There was a lot of wear and tear there, and with Nebraska’s running game faltering, the Huskers turned to Robinson, who’d played the position in high school.
But this offseason coaches were adamant that Robinson was a slot receiver. He wasn’t taking snaps in the backfield. He was a wideout.
Through the first two games, that was the case. And yet Nebraska was having some trouble finding him.
“He’s playing a spot at slot where pretty much everybody I’ve had in my offense that I’ve coached has good numbers to big numbers, it just hasn’t happened the first two weeks,” coach Scott Frost said Monday. “That’s kind of the focus of our offense, that slot position. I think it’s just a matter of time that the ball finds him in our normal offense, and we’ll design whatever we need to make sure he’s a part of what we’re doing.”
In the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Nebraska gave Robinson four carries. Right away they force-fed him the football.
Starting running back Dedrick Mills logged three first-quarter rushing attempts but exited the game and never returned. Frost said he got “nicked up”—he didn’t seem concerned long-term—and the staff had to turn elsewhere.
“Once Dedrick went down they kind of told me I might need to take a little bit more carries in the backfield,” Robinson said. “With how much pressure (Penn State was) bringing, it was a lot easier just to kind of give me the touches that way, too. So it just worked out that way. But like I said before, if I have to play running back the whole game, I’ll play running back. If I’ve got to play receiver the whole game, I’ll play receiver. It’s really whatever they need me to do.”
Again, Robinson played the position in high school. “Basically my whole life,” he said when asked. Though he’s not practicing it during the week, he feels natural in the backfield.
“Wan’Dale can do about anything we ask him to do on the field,” Frost said. “We tried to get him a couple quick screens and a shovel pass and (tried) to find ways to get him the ball. That game was a little strange that we went into the game with kind of one plan and when we got ahead you’re kind of caught in still continuing with the game plan and being aggressive and making sure that we don’t go fast and put our defense out there too much. I think the defense still played 90 some snaps compared to our 60 on offense.
“Wan’Dale is one of our best players and he can do about anything you ask him to do, so I expect him to keep getting the ball and having breakout games.”
Robinson finished with 71 all-purpose yards. His longest play of the day was a 14-yard run, though he might have scored in the fourth quarter if not for a Penn State defender grabbing his facemask and ripping him to the ground.
Nebraska got him involved. It put the ball in the hands of one of its best playmakers. If that continues, it’s only a matter of time before big plays start popping.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.