Northern Illinois vs. Nebraska, 9/16/17

Northern Illinois linebacker Jawuan Johnson (7) and linebacker Kyle Pugh (57) try to stop Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon (21) during the first quarter Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star

Tre Bryant was not going to play, so Mikale Wilbon prepared to make his first career start this week.

The Huskers relied heavily on the junior during Saturday's 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois at Memorial Stadium. Of Nebraska's 33 rushing attempts (not counting sacks), Wilbon touched the ball 24 times, part of a new workload for the 5-foot-9, 200-pounder.

The Chicago native was being met by defenders at or behind the line of scrimmage often, yet scratched and clawed his way to a career-best 90 yards (3.8 yards per carry).

Asked how he felt running the ball, Wilbon said, "Average. I could definitely do better and I will do better."

Wilbon said he could have done everything better — pass blocking, hitting the holes harder and catching the ball.

Nebraska was unable to get on track offensively Saturday, and that included the running game. The Huskers averaged 2.4 yards per carry, though that factors in three Northern Illinois sacks.

NU did find some success on delayed draws, including a 25-yard gash from Wilbon late in the second quarter.

"I thought he had some good runs," NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. 

Wilbon's career high for carries entering Saturday was six, which he accomplished twice last year. He had that number matched midway through the first quarter Saturday.

With Bryant's availability for Northern Illinois likely in doubt (knee), Wilbon knew he had to prepare for a bigger workload.

"During the week I kind of had an idea that, yeah, I'd be starting," Wilbon said. "I didn't know how many carries I would be getting, but I just ran with it and just tried to make the best of my opportunities."

NU's 85 rushing yards were a season-low. But Langsdorf said Bryant's void was not the reason behind that figure. Bryant did suit up for the game.

"Tre's our No. 1 guy, but I thought Mikale went in there and ran hard," Langsdorf said. "I don't think there was a big drop-off there or anything."

Wilbon's ability to move and cut has never been in question since his arrival at Nebraska. He continues to work on pass protection "every day." Wilbon said he's seeing improvement there.

"Some of the blocks I had (the) last two games, I probably wouldn't have made those blocks last year," he said.

Junior Devine Ozigbo picked up his first two carries of the season in the third quarter. He pushed a pile of defenders during an 8-yard carry that drew a roar from the crowd.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said Monday that true freshman Jaylin Bradley would be prepped to carry the ball if needed. The Bellevue West did not enter the game in the offensive backfield, but he did play on special teams.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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