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Nebraska Football

What to Expect From Nebraska's Rushing Attack in 2019

June 30, 2019
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It took just two years for Scott Frost to mold Central Florida into one of the best offenses in the country. 

Year 1 was something of an experimental phase — Frost tried out a lot of different players, particularly at the skill positions. Armed with that knowledge, and an influx of his recruits in Year 2, he fielded an offense that scored 48.3 points per game en route to a 13-0 season.

McKenzie Milton developed into one of the most efficient passers in college football as a sophomore, but the offense was still built around the running game. Central Florida’s running game didn’t too much resemble Nebraska’s in Year 1 under Frost, however, at least in terms of carry distribution.

Devine Ozigbo emerged as a workhorse back for the Huskers last season; that isn’t something that Frost really featured in Orlando. Nebraska didn’t really find a true Duck-R rushing threat while Otis Anderson played a big role as a freshman for the Knights. Adrian Martinez ran the ball this past year even more than Milton did under Frost. 

The overall numbers actually looked pretty similar, however. The Knights ran the ball 38.5 times for 198.7 yards per game at a 5.2 yards per carry clip. The Huskers rushed 38.7 times for 209 yards per game at 5.4 yards a pop.

Here’s a breakdown of Central Florida’s top ball-carriers in 2017.

Name

Class and Position

Games Carries Yards

Yards/ Carry

Carries/ Game

TDs
Adrian Killins Jr. SO RB 13 122 790 6.5 9.4 10
McKenzie Milton SO QB 13 106 613 5.8 8.2 8
Otis Anderson FR WR/RB 12 69 494 7.2 5.8 4
Taj McGowan JR RB 13 69 235 3.4 5.3 8
Cordarrian Richardson FR RB 8 45 161 3.6 5.6 2
Greg McCrae FR RB 12 26 151 5.8 2.2 2

And here’s a look at Nebraska from last season.

Name

Class and Position

Games Carries Yards Yards/ Carry Carries/ Game TDs
Devine Ozigbo SR RB 12 155 1,082 7.0 12.9 12
Adrian Martinez FR QB 11 140 629 4.5 12.7 8
Maurice Washington FR RB 11 77 455 5.9 7.0 3
Wyatt Mazour JR RB 11 11 76 6.9 1.0 1

Adrian Killins Jr. was Central Florida’s top ball-carrier, but the term “workhorse” doesn’t really apply to him. He ran for 6.5 yards per carry and found the end zone 10 times, but Central Florida never put too much responsibility on his shoulders. The 5-foot-8, 164-pound speedster only hit double-digit carries in six of his 13 games that season with a high of 15, set twice.

Ozigbo, a 6-foot, 225-pound bruiser, hit that double-digit mark in eight of his final nine games after earning the starting job. He surpassed 20 twice with a high of 22. He logged 33 more carries than Killins while playing one less game.

The quarterback run game is a huge part of the offense as the quarterbacks were the second-leading rushers for the teams, but as Husker fans saw first-hand last year against Colorado, running the ball ups the injury risk. Milton ran the ball 8.2 times per game for the Knights; Martinez was at 12.7.

Nebraska didn’t have a true Duck-R player like Anderson last year, but Maurice Washington more or less filled that role for Nebraska as a freshman. Smith ran the ball 69 times and caught 30 passes for a total of 845 yards. Washington rushed 77 times and logged 24 catches for 676 yards.

This is where Central Florida’s depth kicks in. The Knights had three other players who saw a decent number of carries while Nebraska’s next guy (thanks to Greg Bell’s midseason transfer) was Wyatt Mazour with 11 carries to his name.

Frost inherited Taj McGowan at Central Florida and seemed to use the 6-foot-1, 210-pound back more os a short-yardage and goal-line back than anything else. He only had 235 yards on 69 carries, but he did find the end zone eight times. Frost got a couple of true freshmen some good experience as well in Cordarrian Richardson (eight games, 45 carries) and Greg McCrae (12 games, 26 carries). 

So, what will the carry distribution look like for the Huskers in 2019? Will it resemble Year 1 in Lincoln, or Year 2 in Orlando? Based on a look at the personnel, I’d lean toward the latter.

For the sake of this story, let’s assume Washington’s legal situation will be resolved and he will remain on the team and play a significant role this season.

Does Nebraska have one player that Frost would feel comfortable with as a workhorse back? From what I’ve seen of Washington, I think he’s much better suited to play a Killins type of role than an Ozigbo one. Physically, I’m not sure Nebraska wants to open him up to the kind of punishment that comes with a heavy workload. Dedrick Mills is a bigger back and more experienced, but he hasn’t played Division I football since 2016; can we really just expect Ozigbo-like production out of him?

I think it’s more likely we see those two split the majority of the carries. Again, I see Washington sliding into a Killins-type role while Mills takes on all the McGowan carries and some of the Killins ones while also hopefully eating up some of the designed runs from Martinez. Martinez will still run the ball often, but in an ideal world he wouldn’t have to carry the ball 12 times per game. The combination of true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson and redshirt freshman Miles Jones, while viewed more as wide receivers than running backs within the program, could fill the Anderson/Duck-R role. 

Frost showed in Orlando he’s not afraid to play true freshmen even in a limited role, which is good news for newbies Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Tompkins if they want to see the field in their first year on campus. Thompkins is coming off a torn ACL, so the picture is a little cloudier with him, but most expect Johnson to make an impact right away and Frost’s history backs that possibility up. Where all this leaves Jaylin Bradley I’m not quite sure, but the carries are there if he’s able to earn a spot in the rotation.

It will be fascinating to see how Frost uses his weapons in the ground game in Year 2. My bet is more balance like we saw at Central Florida in 2017, but for that to happen enough backs have to step up and prove to Frost they belong on the field.

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