LINCOLN, Neb. — Devine Ozigbo’s re-emergence at running back has prompted Nebraska to re-think its ground game.
The Cornhuskers entered the season planning to have one back get most of the carries, and Tre Bryant had consecutive 100-yard games before injuring his knee and missing the last two games.
Ozigbo ran a career-high 24 times for 101 yards as the backup to Mikale Wilbon in the 27-17 win over Rutgers on Saturday. Coach Mike Riley said Monday if Bryant can’t play Friday night at Illinois, Wilbon will be the starter again and share equal playing time with Ozigbo and freshman Jaylin Bradley.
Ozigbo came out of preseason practice No. 3 on the depth chart behind Bryant and Wilbon even though he was the most experienced back. The junior from Sachse, Texas, didn’t appear in the first two games and carried just twice against Northern Illinois.
He broke out against Rutgers, gaining 86 of his 101 yards in the second half as the Huskers pounded away at a tiring defense. Afterward, Ozigbo campaigned for the by-committee approach.
“We definitely have the guys in the room who are all worthy of playing, so I feel like to keep them from playing would be a detriment to the team instead of helping it,” he said.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Ozigbo carried on 14 of Nebraska’s 17 plays after it took a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
“He has got to be tough to tackle. I’m glad I don’t have to,” quarterback Tanner Lee said. “He is just so consistent, just a bruising back and it’s huge to have that on your team, especially in games where you can kind of milk the clock a little bit and just give the ball to him and pick up first downs and get the tough yards.”
Ozigbo, who ran for 412 yards and five touchdowns in 2016 and for 209 yards and a TD as a freshman, appeared to be a top contender to be the starter after the departure of Terrell Newby. It was difficult for Ozigbo to accept not winning the job, and he was confused when he didn’t get on the field the first two games.
“I know I wear my emotion on my face,” he said. “It didn’t really hurt my practice or my play, but you could just tell I wasn’t in a good headspace. But, talking to my teammates, talking to my family back home, to my friends back home, it definitely got me right.”
Riley said he had told Ozigbo a couple weeks ago that he would get an opportunity and that he needed to be ready for it.
“I was really proud of him for how he approached it because, like I told the team yesterday, he played like he’s been practicing,” Riley said. “We’ve seen those situations where a guy gets disappointed and he focuses on the disappointment. If it was my own kid, I would call it pouting. But he never did that. He practiced hard, prepared himself and he played a good football game the other day.”