LINCOLN — Just wait. You’ll see. Ameer Abdullah used to tell reporters that all the time when asked about his backup.
Because one day, Nebraska would be without the electrifying and hard-working I-back. Then what?
Just wait, Abdullah would say. There’s a capable protégé waiting his turn.
Nebraska fans got a sampling of what Abdullah was talking about last Saturday night when Terrell Newby took center stage for a game-long unveiling of talent and potential.
Newby took 28 handoffs for 198 yards, bursting through middle rush lanes on power plays and deciphering movement effectively enough to find space on zone-blocking calls. He caught a pass one-handed and trotted freely into the end zone. He turned a third-down dumpoff into a dazzling 30-yard gain, which might have been his best highlight of the night.
He didn’t take a play off until the third quarter. He didn’t need to. Or want to.
“It feels good when you’re out there. You really get a feel for the game,” Newby said. “You know what’s going on, you know the tendencies and you see things better.”
Abdullah, now a Detroit Lion, was tweeting his appreciation throughout Saturday’s 48-9 Nebraska win. He and Newby talked after the game, with Abdullah passing along the same type of encouragement and advice he’s been sharing with Newby since the California kid joined Nebraska’s team two years ago.
Newby isn’t the next Abdullah. But that’s not what he’s trying to be.
One glance at clips from Abdullah’s NFL debut reinforces that point. Said Newby: “Beast Man. First carry, he scores? That’s just him.”
Newby’s something else. A 5-foot-10, 200-pound runner with burst and balance who’s still trying to adapt his mentor’s instinctive blend of physicality and agility.
There seems to be a brilliance about Newby, but it’s still in production — perhaps to be revealed over the course of his first season as Nebraska’s top I-back.
There’s a reason Danny Langsdorf and the offensive coaches identified Newby as their No. 1 guy heading into training camp and again after it.
“I think having success early and popping some of those runs — I think a guy really gets in a groove,” said Langsdorf, NU’s offensive coordinator. “I thought he was in one of those zones. He just looked good running. Made some great decisions. Played fast. I think we expected some more out of him, and we got it in that game.”
Confidence was key, said Reggie Davis, Newby’s position coach.
In the season opener against BYU, Newby had just three carries for 8 yards during the Huskers’ first three possessions. Backups were in on the fourth drive.
But against South Alabama, Newby ripped off a 10-yard run on NU’s second snap. A 12-yarder came right after that. By the end of the first quarter, he was already halfway to the century mark.
“The game’s a lot about confidence,” Davis said. “I think getting off to a fast start was big for him. That’s where the confidence starts getting built. You can put successive positive plays together — that gets the offense machine rolling and that gives that individual confidence.”
For Newby, it was proof of progress. He began last week hoping to see the field better, to identify rush lanes and react accordingly. He did that.
It was helpful that his offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage with more consistency. South Alabama wasn’t incredibly disciplined, either. Tougher opponents are ahead, including Saturday at Miami.
But Newby’s ready for the challenge. For him, nothing changes.
“I still want to take the same approach,” he said. “Come out early, pretty much do exactly what we did last week. We want to be clicking on all cylinders again.”
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