Run the Ball Guy and Play Devine Ozigbo Guy had to be walking on air as they left Memorial Stadium Saturday.

Ozigbo had to be happy, too.

The junior I-back, Nebraska's leading returning rusher coming into the season who had become buried on NU's depth chart as first Tre Bryant, then Mikale Wilbon got their turns, became the go-to guy for the Huskers on a day they needed a punishing running game to close out Rutgers.

"I definitely wanted to prove something for myself, just to show I could do it," the 6-foot, 230-pounder said after NU's win. "Everybody's been wishing me good luck, and I definitely had to do it for them as well. It's been built up for a while."

It built up as Ozigbo watched from the sideline against Arkansas State, and again when he didn't play at Oregon. He had just two carries for eight yards in the loss to Northern Illinois.

He didn't touch the ball in the first quarter against Rutgers, either. But he got five carries in the second. And in the final 30 minutes, when Nebraska had to lean on its running game and grind out a win, Ozigbo toted the rock 19 times for 85 yards. Ten of those carries and 66 of those yards came in the fourth quarter.

The 24-carry, 101-yard performance turned out to be one of the most productive of Ozigbo's career. His 24 carries were a career-high, and the 101 yards were two short of his career best.

"He's gotta be tough to tackle; I'm glad I don't have to do it. He just so consistent, a bruising back, and it's huge to have that on your team," NU quarterback Tanner Lee said. "Especially in games like today where you can kind of milk the clock a little bit and just get the ball to him and get first downs, tough yards. I'm happy for Devine."

It may not always be pretty with this team, but Ozigbo bashing into potential tacklers who looked less and less willing to hit him as the game went on, with a healthy dose of Mikale Wilbon mixed in, would seem to work just fine as Tre Bryant continues to recover from a banged up knee.

Nebraska rushed 47 times for 197 yards and averaged 4.2 yards a carry against a Rutgers defense that came to Lincoln ranked ninth in the country against the run. Two of the Scarlet Knights' first three opponents didn't crack 90 yards rushing, and none of the three averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry.

"We were able to run, kept pounding them, and that was a big part of our game and our plan," NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "And the fact that we were able to go from a couple yards a carry last week, that was really critical."

Ozigbo led a running back by committee effort that had gone by the wayside through Nebraska's first three games as Bryant and then Wilbon handled most of the work.

Wilbon finished with 14 carries for 78 yards Saturday and freshman Jaylin Bradley, in his first action with Nebraska's offense, got six carries for 16 yards.

"Devine has run like that since he got here, so I'm just happy to see him showcase himself," left guard Jerald Foster said. "Our backs did great. Bradley, a young guy coming in and putting in yards that he needed, and of course Mikale doing what he does best back there. Between the three of them, it was a great show."

It was a great release for Ozigbo, who admitted to being frustrated early in the year with his decreased role.

"It definitely wasn't easy. It was something — I kind of wear my emotion on my face. And it didn't really hurt my practice or my play, but you could just tell I wasn't in a good head space," Ozigbo said. "But talking to my teammates, talking to my family and my friends back home, it definitely got me right. I focused on practicing. It didn't really matter what happened, just go out there and practice as good as I could.

"It definitely was tough. But good things come to those who wait."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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