Nebraska counts on run game to close out win, but Huskers see room to improve

Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo went over 100 yards for the second straight game and ran on 11 consecutive plays on the last drive to close out NU’s win.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — With just less than seven minutes left in its 28-6 win over Illinois, Nebraska had the ball at its own 24. It desired to finish the game on the field, and it did.

NU running back Devine Ozigbo, who has become the Huskers’ closer, ran the ball 11 straight times and converted three straight third downs, including a third-and-20.

After Ozigbo’s 20-yard gain, which nearly broke for a touchdown, Nebraska went into victory formation and kneeled out a win.

“It was nice to see us running to win the game at the end,” coach Mike Riley said. “Loved it. Absolutely thought that was beautiful.”

NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Husker offensive players want more from the run game, especially as Wisconsin comes to town. Nebraska plowed out 165 yards on 38 carries, and Ozigbo went over 100 yards for a second straight week, but Langsdorf isn’t satisfied.

“Not particularly,” Langsdorf said. “I think some of the production came real late in the game. Early in the fourth (quarter), we really weren’t producing well.”

The run defenses only get stingier from here, Langsdorf hinted. He’s right. Headed into Saturday, Wisconsin, NU’s next opponent, is giving up 3.09 yards per carry. Ohio State, which comes to Lincoln in two weeks, is giving up 3.41 yards per carry. Minnesota — at 2.81 — looks even saltier.

Ozigbo said the Huskers can do “a lot better.”

“If I were to give our run game a percentage, I feel like we’re running at, like, 70,” Ozigbo said.

How can Nebraska improve? Ozigbo wants to see himself, Mikale Wilbon and the blockers assert their collective strength at the start of games like they have in the fourth quarter, when, in consecutive weeks, they’ve worn down smaller, overmatched defenses in Rutgers and Illinois.

Left guard Jerald Foster said NU’s consistency needs to improve, too. Nebraska averaged nearly 6 yards per carry in the first half as Ozigbo and Wilbon each found creases in an Illinois defense already on its heels. But the third quarter — eight carries, 30 yards, including an Ozigbo fumble — was that lull in the attack that NU generally hopes to avoid.

“Coming out and not being able to put it together for the second-half drive — I feel like that is like how you end an (opponent), playing really well in the first half and coming out on that first drive of the second half and putting them away,” Foster said. “That consistency is what we really need. I believe in us. I think we’re able to do it.”

Nebraska’s ability to impose its will on defenses whenever it wants is “a process,” Riley said, and “a goal in each ballgame.”

“Sometimes, in order to impose your will, it takes all three hours and 27 minutes of the ballgame,” Riley said. “But that is the goal. And I know it’s Wisconsin’s goal. I know exactly how they approach the games and what they try to do. And, frankly, their running game is great.”

The Badgers are averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 275.3 rushing yards per game headed into Saturday’s game with Northwestern. Nebraska is at 156.2 yards per game.

“Obviously we needed all this growth in the last couple of weeks,” Riley said. “In particular, to get in a position to compete to win against Wisconsin. All those things coming together is pretty exciting.”

How would you grade Nebraska's performance against Illinois?

The Huskers defeated Illinois 28-6 on the road to start conference play 2-0. How would you grade NU's overall performance in Friday's win?

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