Going Deep: Ozigbo Producing in Closer's Role
If this were baseball, Nebraska would certainly have its closer.
In fact, let’s go ahead and slap that label on Devine Ozigbo, based on what he’s done in the Huskers’ last two football games.
Devine, a junior running back, carried 15 times in the fourth quarter against Rutgers for 66 yards, and followed that by carrying 13 times for 76 yards in the fourth quarter to milk away a 28-6 victory Friday night at Illinois.
As far as running backs coach Reggie Davis is concerned, this isn’t rocket science.
“Make them stop it,” he said. “Don’t stop ourselves. Make them stop it.”
Which Illinois couldn’t. Not even when Ozigbo carried 11 straight times to help the Huskers drain the final 6:54 off the game clock. That included a 20-yard gain on third-and-20.
True, Ozigbo benefitted from three Illinois timeouts in that stretch, but still, 11 straight times?
“It’s not uncommon in that situation when you’re trying to run out the clock,” Davis said, “and you’re trying to bleed everything out and they can't really stop you.”
“As long as the guy can handle it and the line’s getting movement, then you want to keep doing it.”
Davis has equal faith that starting running back Mikale Wilbon could also finish a game in the same manner, however, Wilbon injured his ankle on Nebraska’s previous series – a mammoth, 93-yard drive – and didn’t return.
Plus, Davis admits having a bigger back to insert at such a time is a nice luxury, too.
“There’s no doubt, 230 pounds compared to 200 pounds, there’s a difference at the end of the game,” Davis said. “It also depends on what kind of a game it’s been. (Ozigbo) has been the right guy for the last couple of games, that’s for sure.”
He could be the guy again Saturday night, when Nebraska (3-2, 2-0 Big Ten) hosts division rival Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) in a pivotal West Division game at Memorial Stadium.
Coaches are hopeful Wilbon, who didn’t practice Monday, is able to play against the Badgers. (Nebraska will already be without sophomore Tre Bryant, who started the season’s first two games but hasn’t played since because of a knee injury).
But if Wilbon isn’t ready, Ozigbo moves into the starting role, and true freshman Jaylin Bradley will be his top backup. That means walk-ons Wyatt Mazour and Austin Rose become the next available running backs.
“Those guys had good springs,” Davis said. “Those guys are in the conversation as well.”
Ozigbo and Wilbon have made great strides since last season, too. Davis noted how Ozigbo is better at getting upfield, rather than running side-to-side, and that Wilbon has a better understanding of the passing game and pass protection.
Whoever gets the nod against Wisconsin, and whenever, will be facing a defense every bit as physical as past Badger units.
“Absolutely. They’re still physical,” Davis said. “They play with great motors. They don’t stay blocked. They’re ranked in the top 5 of the country against the run and in different areas for good reason.”
During one point of fall camp, we heard the name of Ben Stille as a guy who was standing out, somebody to eye.
As soon as he appeared on our radars, the redshirt freshman seemed to vanish.
Well, he’s back in the forefront, bigger than ever.
Stille, a defensive lineman-turned-linebacker, earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors after collecting a sack among his three tackles for loss against Illinois.
A graduate of Ashland-Greenwood High School, Stille seemed humbled by the honor and said it’s a reflection of his teammates helping him.
“I knew there would be an opportunity that would probably arise, just because it’s a long season,” said Stille, who switched roles after senior linebacker Marcus Newby injured his hamstring. “Guys get banged up, so I knew I’d be able to hopefully step in and provide some depth.
“But I definitely didn’t know it would be this big of a role.”
Nebraska coach Mike Riley said coaches have seen Stille contribute in practice with “really, really good, hard, consistent work,” and that Stille has made the most of an opportunity.
“He had bounced from a defensive end to a boundary linebacker, and, with the injuries we’ve had, he slides in, takes advantage of it and physically, has done a very good job,” Riley said. “He’s very conscientious. He has always been an extremely hard worker, and that’s what’s happened. It’s pretty simple.”
Nebraska men’s basketball coach Tim Miles, in addressing the media at Monday’s weekly news conference, mentioned, unsolicited, the Huskers’ Dec. 16 home game with Kansas.
Miles carefully pointed out he’s not circled that date over others, but that, with a Big 12 Conference team coming to town, it’s chance for Nebraska basketball to show its former league what the Huskers have going.
“I wanted to show other Big 12 folks this is what we’re doing at Nebraska,” Miles said. “This is what basketball looks like. Pinnacle Bank Arena is going to be a spectacular night.”
Here’s guessing Miles doesn’t single out this game without believing he has a special team.
And he does.
“I think we’re going to be a lot better,” Miles said. “I think we can make a charge (in the Big Ten). I like that nobody is talking about us. That’s just fine. I’ll talk about us.”
Miles predicted an exciting year for fans in a year that Nebraska basketball is “reinventing itself.”
While that’s true every year, the process seems bigger, more special this year.
“I thought we reinvented ourselves pretty well,” Miles said. “We had losses, we had transfers, we had a key player graduate. When you get those losses, it looks bad, feels bad. But I really kind of like where this team is at physically, mentally. I think we’ve got a lot of length.
“I think this is our deepest team, but we still need to stay healthy.”
Among the top newcomers is Isaac Copeland (above). Miles said the Georgetown transfer figures to be among the team's top two scorers and top three rebounders.
In general, Miles feels a “good vibe" with this team, saying players get along, compete hard and compete well.
Of course, we’re less than a week into practice, too. The bullets will fly as early as December, with games against Creighton, Kansas, Michigan State and Minnesota – the most difficult pre-Christmas this program may have ever encountered.
Fans get can get a firsthand look at the men’s and women’s basketball teams Friday at 8 p.m. as they host a special preseason event next to the Railyard in the Haymarket in Lincoln. This free and fan-friendly event will feature dunk and three-point contests, as well as other games featuring both teams and fans in attendance.
Fans will want to arrive early, as the event takes place on Canopy Street between R and Q streets. Parking will be available in garages and metered stalls throughout the Haymarket.
Another Match, Another Challenge
For the first time in program history, the Nebraska volleyball team has defeated three Top 10 teams in a span of nine days in the regular season.
The Huskers' reward?
A match against the only other undefeated team in the Big Ten Conference, No. 14 Michigan State.
That's life in the Big Ten, no?
No. 4 Nebraska (11-3, 4-0) hosts the Spartans on Wednesday night at the Devaney Sports Center. Here's assuming the best fans in college volleyball have a little more juice left after expending so much energy in Saturday's comeback from a 0-2 deficit to defeat Wisconsin.
The Huskers have held their first 14 opponents under .250 hitting for the first time since 2013, and Mikaela Foecke leads the Huskers with 3.25 kills per set, and is averaging 2.60 digs per set. The junior has five double-doubles this season.
Michigan State (11-2, 4-0) has won at Minnesota and at Wisconsin, and comes to Lincoln having won six straight matches.
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.