Running backs all get a chance to shine
BY BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star
So, this is how you keep four players happy in a running back-by-committee approach.
You give three of them at least 13 carries apiece. The other, you watch make a highlight-reel, tackle-breaking, touchdown run.
And you admire the results — 252 rushing yards, an average of 5.2 yards per carry, and many smiles following a 49-10 victory.
“I think it worked out really good,” Nebraska sophomore Cody Glenn said. “It worked out just like we expected it would work out.”
Glenn rushed 13 times for 88 yards and had consecutive runs of 15, 12 and 10 yards on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that pushed Nebraska’s lead to 35-10 against Louisiana Tech on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Those carries came after sophomore Marlon Lucky, who started the game, left with what coaches said appeared to be a minor injury. He “got dinged,” offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said, noting Lucky took a shot in the back, “but should be OK.”
Before he left, Lucky had 13 carries for 79 yards and scored his first career touchdown, bursting through holes on the right side of the line and running 13 yards for a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.
Glenn, used mostly last season as a short-yardage back, again fulfilled that role when he scored on a 1-yard run with seven seconds left before halftime for a 21-10 lead.
Junior college transfer Kenny Wilson had a 29-yard touchdown negated because of a holding penalty in the first quarter. He had another potential scoring chance, carrying six times in a 14-play drive that ended when Wilson lost a fumble on the final play of the third quarter, recovered by the Bulldogs at the Louisiana Tech 11-yard line.
Wilson, who fumbled again later, but had it recovered by a teammate, finished with 15 carries for 47 yards.
The guy who saw the least action turned in perhaps the most electrifying play. Brandon Jackson made the most of one of his three carries, breaking several tackles en route to a 25-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter — a play in which he dragged a defender toward the goal line.
“When I got the ball, they overlapped me, and I cut back,” Jackson said. “I almost fell.”
As for the rotation?
“I was happy with the way the rotation went today,” Jackson said. “Everybody had their time to get in the game and do what they had to do.”
That included catching passes — Lucky had three for 42 yards — and picking up blitzes. Norvell noted Jackson’s blitz pick-up on the third-down play prior to his touchdown run.
“We have talented kids,” Norvell said. “One of the things is that no guy has stepped up and separated himself from the other guys, but they all have gotten opportunities and done a good job.”
The 252 rushing yards were 70 more than Nebraska’s best performance last season, which came at Baylor. It’s the fourth-best rushing total in third-year coach Bill Callahan’s tenure.
The running game helped set up the passing game, leading to 584 yards of total offense, the highest NU’s had since 2002 against McNeese State. The Huskers used as many as three and four tight ends on plays, as Norvell said coaches felt they could take advantage on the perimeter.
“We felt like if we kept running it, we would get some breakout plays,” he said, “and that was the case.”
The longest run for each back was 25 by Jackson, 18 by Glenn, 13 by Lucky and 9 by Wilson.
“They’re all capable of taking it the distance on every play,” Nebraska senior guard Greg Austin said. “That’s a very needed dimension as we go through the season. Each and every one of them made a play today. It’s like, you want to block for them.”
Running backs coach Randy Jordan said the backs are chosen based on the play calling.
“It’s a little competition. It trickles down,” Jordan said. “Competition is good. You’re in there, you see Marlon make a play, and you’re like, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got to make a play.’ ”
And more backs can cause more problems for opponents, Wilson said.
“That keeps the defense off-balance,” he said. “They think they’re going to get a break from one running back, and the other three come in and do the same thing.”
Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.