McKewon: Fourth-quarter rushing offense helps Huskers close out games

Nebraska's fourth-quarter dominance, like Terrell Newby's strong running against Illinois, is a big part of the Husker's offense through five games.

LINCOLN — Numbers can’t tell every story of Nebraska’s offense through five games.

But one truth about the Husker O quickly emerges: NU knows how to close the deal in the fourth quarter.

The Huskers’ 457 rushing yards in that quarter rank third nationally, the highest ranking since NU led the nation in 2012 with 1,048 fourth-quarter rushing yards. And get this: It’s only 10 fewer yards than Nebraska’s fourth-quarter rushing total for all of 2015. That’s 13 games. The Huskers have played only five thus far.

Here’s another: Only 34 teams have thrown two or fewer interceptions this season. Nebraska is one of them.

Put simply: That’s winning offense. When the Huskers possess the ball for as long as they do, convert third downs at a 53-percent clip, don’t turn it over and finish games in the fourth quarter, they’re protecting the defense and wearing down the opposing defense.

Nebraska’s doing that with a patchwork offensive line. It remains to be seen how well that unit holds up over the second half of the season, when the defenses — starting with Indiana and continuing with Wisconsin and Ohio State — get stingier.

In the passing game, quarterback Tommy Armstrong has a new top deep target: senior Alonzo Moore, who is averaging more than 25 yards per catch and has two long touchdowns. Moore will be counted upon in the season’s second half, as will senior Brandon Reilly, who has recovered from hamstring issues and should be fresh. Together, they can help make up for the absence of Jordan Westerkamp, who may be out for one or more games with a back injury.

At I-back, Terrell Newby may have surged ahead, based on his strong running in the fourth quarter against Illinois, but sophomores Devine Ozigbo and Mikale Wilbon remain factors. Wilbon, if he can hold on to the ball, gives Nebraska a nice change-of-pace back. Ozigbo is an all-around talent who weaves through traffic on screen passes.

A few things to watch in Nebraska’s final seven games:

» The Huskers seem to have far more success running the ball out of the shotgun than under center. Armstrong is a much bigger run threat out of the shotgun, but the Husker backs have flourished there, too. NU’s line and blocking backs don’t quite have the push of last season’s bunch.

» The run-pass option plays, in which Armstrong can choose between throwing the ball or keeping it, have been a hit. Armstrong’s long touchdown run against Oregon was such a play, as was his long touchdown pass to Moore against Wyoming. Usually, Nebraska’s play design allows for a quick slant, or a throw to the flat, or an Armstrong run. Armstrong has generally handled those decision-making plays quite well.

» The defense that gambles with blitzes against the Huskers tends to lose sooner or later. Ohio State and Wisconsin are both pretty aggressive defenses at times, but they also might have good enough defensive linemen for their back seven to wait for mistakes.

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