LINCOLN — It was almost hard to watch the replay Friday after Terrell Newby not only took a huge shot from an Iowa defender but was bent backwards after the second-quarter run, and Newby remained down as Nebraska athletic trainers immediately sprinted out.
The senior I-back somehow limped off under his own power and even returned for some snaps after halftime, to the surprise of offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
“It was kind of a scary looking hit,” Langsdorf said.
Newby coming back spoke well of his toughness and durability, and left him as a rare piece of the Husker offense who either didn’t miss a game in 2016 or play as damaged goods for a chunk of time.
Nobody around college football ever expects to go through any season injury-free, of course, but the big and little things definitely left NU challenged to reach the production it hoped for in its second season with Langsdorf and coach Mike Riley running their offense.
“We’ve kind of been a revolving door in some spots,” Langsdorf said. “But we’ve got guys that have to step up and play, and we’ve got to put them in a good position to have success.”
Nebraska finished the regular season at 386.1 yards per game of total offense (ranking No. 85 nationally), including 178.2 rushing (No. 63) and 207.9 passing (No. 90). All three averages were dropoffs from a year ago, with the total offense by 60 yards.
Along the way, Nebraska not once started the 11 players together who were its projected No. 1s before left guard Jerald Foster suffered a knee injury on Aug. 17. In all, those 11 missed about two dozen starts combined.
A position-by-position look at some of the setbacks:
» Nebraska had been OK at quarterback until Tommy Armstrong was knocked out during the Ohio State game. What followed was a three-week scramble that included Armstrong dealing with concussion protocol and a hamstring injury, Ryker Fyfe breaking a bone in his left wrist during his only start and NU pulling Zack Darlington back to quarterback as a safety valve.
» The senior receiving trio of Jordan Westerkamp (back), Brandon Reilly (hamstring) and Alonzo Moore (shoulder) each missed at least two games, on top of De’Mornay Pierson-El having to find his footing again after last season’s bad knee and leg injury.
» Nebraska played three games during one Big Ten stretch without senior Cethan Carter, its best receiving tight end and an important piece to some run-blocking schemes.
» Left tackle Nick Gates and center Dylan Utter made every start on the offensive line, but Gates battled an ankle injury after a strong start and Utter did the same over the final weeks. Right tackle David Knevel was never quite right after hurting an ankle in the Oregon game, and right guard Tanner Farmer missed two games with a high ankle sprain.
» Newby gave the Huskers a career-high 181 carries, including his last two and a pass reception in the second half Friday after returning. But sophomore Devine Ozigbo would go from 76 carries in the first five games to just 14 in the next seven because of an ankle injury, and freshman Tre Bryant picked up more work.
After watching the Husker defense absorb most of the bad luck a year ago, it was the offense’s turn in 2016 to find out about walk-ons such as Sam Hahn, Cole Conrad and Bryan Reimers at different times.
“It kind of took turns,” Langsdorf said.
Armstrong said he didn’t think that it changed what Nebraska wanted to do through the season. But the quarterback was regularly most affected, either with different receivers running routes or different linemen protecting him from week to week.
“We had a bunch of guys step up, and that’s what it was all about,” Armstrong said. “We had a bunch of seniors on this team that understood that we maybe have guys go down, but we held each and every person on our team accountable, and we wanted to demand a lot out of our team.
“We believe in our guys to go out there and know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve been doing a great job this whole year of doing that.”
Nebraska will have about a month to get healthy, with the bowl game offering a chance for some last-minute redemption. It will be the final game for about a dozen seniors on the offensive side who played important snaps this season.
Armstrong hobbled through most of his at Iowa, completing just 13 of 35 passes and running for 13 yards.
“I don’t think he was probably 100 percent,” Langsdorf said, “but we knew that going in, and he was pretty confident that he felt good enough.”