McKewon: Don't sleep on senior Devine Ozigbo in crowded Husker backfield

Nebraska's Devine Ozigbo has rushed for 1,114 yards during his career.

Do me a favor and watch a Husker running back for a second. Here’s the video.

That’s a Devine Ozigbo 42-yard run in the 2016 Music City Bowl. A darn good run, too. Against a Tennessee blitz, Ozigbo meets, just three yards past the line of scrimmage, a UT linebacker right in the hole that Husker left guard Jerald Foster failed to block. That play, easily, could have been a three-yard gain.

Ozigbo shucks the Volunteer and just keeps trucking. And although he’s finally corralled, he initially runs away from two Tennessee defensive backs who eventually have to take cautious angles.

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Now, look at Ozigbo’s physique on that play. Thicker. Bulkier up top. As good of a second-level runner as Ozigbo can be — and he’s always been better at it than he’s given credit for — another back might have taken that play to the house.

You may not be able to tell this yet, but Ozigbo looks almost nothing like he did in that bowl game. He’s trimmer — and almost certainly faster.

And while it’ll make him a better open-field runner, again — he was never bad at making the second guy miss.

His struggle has been, at times, at squaring himself into holes at the line of scrimmage and making the first guy miss.

Which is running backs coach Ryan Held’s comment about Ozigbo on Wednesday caught my attention.

“He can now move his body to where, if there’s not a hole, it doesn’t take him two extra steps to get to that cut,” Held said. “He can now make the cut, plant and get vertical. Which is what you have to have. Why? Because he’s worked hard in the weight room, he’s trimmed his body, he’s eating right. His short-area quickness is a lot better, which allows him to be more efficient in this offense.”

Ozigbo’s biggest struggle — getting past the line of scrimmage — may now be one of his strengths.

No. 22 has had an interesting career. He’s run for 1,114 yards but — get this — more than 70 percent of those yards have come in nine games. In 38 games, he also has nine DNPs. In 2016, he had 76 carries in the first five games — and 21 for the rest of the season. Last year, Ozigbo was plum benched for the first two games — even when Tre Bryant got hurt at Oregon — before he returned in the Northern Illinois game for two carries — a big ovation from the student section.

Ozigbo led NU in rushing last year. The presumption — it appears wrong now — was that he wouldn’t be a factor on the 2018 team.

He’s a factor, and maybe a bigger factor than he’s ever been.

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