Devine Ozigbo has gotten on the field lately because of his work ethic in practice, but it’s his improved all-around game that has kept him there and made him effective.
The junior tailback was on the pine for the first two games of the season, and got two carries in week three. But Ozigbo has been released in the last two weeks and allowed to carry the backfield. He’s produced in a major way. A career-high 24 carries against Rutgers on Sep. 23 and a career-high 106 yards against Illinois on Sep. 29.
Stretch the yardage he’s gained in the last two weeks over the Huskers' entire season to this point and Ozigbo is half a yard behind Wisconsin’s freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor for third in the Big Ten in yardage. In his last seven quarters of work (he didn’t log a play in the first quarter of the Rutgers game), Ozigbo has seven explosive run plays including two that have gone for 20 yards.
“It feels good,” Ozigbo said when asked how he’s handled the increased workload. “I didn’t know how I was going to handle it but I felt pretty good about it. The line’s going and getting the edge and giving the team energy so I wasn’t really worried about being tired.”
Ozigbo said his play on the field has been a direct result of his work off the field. Before the season started, he wanted to work on his patience. His coaches – offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and running backs coach Reggie Davis – have said Ozigbo used to be more of an east-west runner. Now, he’s waiting for blocks to develop and hitting his holes. No more bouncing everything outside.
“I definitely think I’ve gotten better at being more patient, being able to, when I see a hole, explode through it instead of just having one speed and trying to get around [the defense],” he said. “That’s definitely something I’ve tried to work on because one of my biggest strengths was reading inside zone and I think I’ve gotten better at that. Once I made myself be more patient, things have opened up and I can explode through … Once I see something, I hit it.”
One of the biggest knocks on Ozigbo’s game in the past – and the presumed reason for his lack of playing time early this season – has been his effectiveness in pass protection situations. In the last two weeks, Ozigbo has been solid in that area. Quarterback Tanner Lee has only been sacked twice in the last two weeks and the overall pressure he’s faced has gone down a bit. Yes competition and an improving offensive line is a major factor, but the work Ozigbo has done shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Blocking is all a mindset,” he said. “Once you get your mind right, you’ve just got to get in position. I’m never really worried about who’s coming – it’s honestly easier if I know a guy is coming – because I know I just have to get in position and do what I do fundamentally.”
Ozigbo said it’s not really an issue anymore. Now he just has to worry about referees telling him to pull his jersey down.
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.