Not only has the quarterback position seen a revamp since Scott Frost took over the Nebraska football program, but the style of backfield residents has made a dramatic shift as well. Fullbacks are a thing of the past, perhaps one of the most controversial changes among the fan base. That’s not to say the physical element of the Huskers’ running game is gone, though. Rather, the Big Red still looks poised to wear down the competition before gouging them with speedier options from here on out.
There were three main storylines to Nebraska’s running back corps last season: the fall of Greg Bell, the results of Devine Ozigbo’s career of hard work, and excitement surrounding Maurice Washington.
A junior college transfer out of the now-defunct Arizona Western program, Bell claimed the official starting spot heading into the season opener. He would share carries with a determined Ozigbo and following a 56-10 pasting by Michigan, Ozigbo broke out for 170 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns versus Purdue. Bell would carry the ball twice for two yards. Prior to Nebraska’s visit to Wisconsin, Bell would ask for and be granted his release.
Ozigbo would go on to become Nebraska’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 when current Minnesota Viking Ameer Abdullah reached that mark. Washington burst onto the scene versus Troy with a 14-carry, 92-yard effort. With Bell no longer part of the equation, he complemented Ozigbo’s punishing style with an ankle-breaking approach that saw him rack up 455 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He also proved an effective receiving threat with 221 yards on the year, capping 2018 with a 102-yard effort versus Iowa.
Key Departure: Devine Ozigbo (155 att., 1,082 yds., 7.0 ypc, 12 TDs)
Key Returners for 2019: Maurice Washington (So.), Wyatt Mazour (Sr.), Miles Jones (Sr.)
With Ozigbo off to try his luck in the professional ranks, Washington takes over as the main offensive weapon at the position. However, junior college transfer and former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Dedrick Mills joins him as a potential replacement for Ozigbo’s physical approach to the game. During his true freshman season in Atlanta, Mills totaled 771 yards and 12 touchdowns in Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense.
Mills' arrival could become even more important in light of Monday's news that Washington has been charged in California on two criminal counts, including felony possession of child pornography, for allegedly sending a sexually-explicit video over text message to his former girlfriend.
Beyond Washington and Mills, the Huskers’ running back room has a mixture of experience and enormous potential. Wyatt Mazour offers a change-of-pace back who can provide a momentary reprieve for the two projected primary ball carriers. Miles Jones’ presence was expected far more often in 2018, but he’ll likely see time in a similar role to expected DUCK-R starter Wandale Robinson. He has the athleticism to give Nebraska yet another option to stretch defenses to the limit. His contributions to the team may not often show up on the stat sheet, but he remains a valuable member of the roster.
Incoming freshmen Rahmir Johnson and Ronald Thompkins are prototypical Frost running backs. Johnson holds records at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, in the 100 meters (10.75), 200 meters (21.46), 300 meters (35.31), and long jump (22' 1.5") events as well as being part of the two best 4x100 teams the school has ever fielded (42.72 in both 2017 and '18).
Unfortunately, Thompkins suffered an ACL injury which cut his senior season short. However, the former Florida State commitment was coveted by both Frost’s staff and former Nebraska head coach Mike Riley’s. After the Huskers stiff-armed the Seminoles along with LSU and Penn State for his services, Thompkins appears ready for a shot at the DUCK-R spot once he recovers.
Position Grade for 2019: B
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces). To contact him with tips, story ideas or for interview purposes, click here.