Thus far in 2015, Nebraska's offense has used a variety of tight ends and wideouts in a scheme that promotes spreading the ball around to playmakers.
One notable difference: Running back. There, of the 102 carries shared by all Husker backs, Terrell Newby and Imani Cross have combined for 86 of them. Newby all by himself has 70 of them. That's 68.7 percent of the carries. Last year, Ameer Abdullah had 64.7 percent of the carries among running backs. In other words, Newby's usage in the ground game is currently outpacing that of a Doak Walker Award finalist.
NU fans — and reporters — have nibbled around the matter for the last three weeks; during Monday's press conference, coach Mike Riley laid out again why Newby and Cross are seeing most of the action.
"Terrell Newby is our most versatile back and he has made guys miss, he has been effective in the passing game," Riley said. "He has the most versatility of our backs right now. And then Imani can play. I think he plays a nice curveball role for us."
Riley wants to get true freshman Devine Ozigbo more involved in the offense, as well. As for redshirt freshman running back Mikale Wilbon?
"As he grows in knowledge, and we can keep working with him, he can be like Terrell Newby," Riley said. "He's a pretty versatile guy. He's got learning to do — like all young guys do."
Read that last quote again. Riley soft-pedals things a bit, but the answer is clear: Nebraska's offense has some sophistication to it, and Wilbon isn't there yet.
Riley added this right after that:
"What's real important to us is how they do pass protecting. There have been guys I've coached who can play as true freshmen because they have a very good sense of football and their vision — their football IQ — is very good. So pass protection, they can just see it. It's like the game's slower for them. Some guys don't quite come along that fast. That becomes hard to play them because they're so one-dimensional. You can give them the ball, but then, if you don't want to — if you'd like to throw or playaction pass — and they have a protection responsibility, they become a liability."
Now, whether media and fans agree or disagree with Riley's take, that's the take. Nebraska running backs have to pass block now. And they have to know the ins and outs of a diverse offense that dials up a lot of different plays.
Football IQ counts. And Newby, in the coaches' eyes, has it.