That running back by committee that Nebraska’s offensive coaches touted throughout fall camp found a chairman Saturday night.
Sophomore Tre Bryant got the start and rarely left the field, taking ownership of a role that appeared on the outside to be up in the air right up until Nebraska's first offensive snap.
"No sir, I was not," Bryant said when asked if he expected the workload he got Saturday night. "But at the same time I was just willing to help the team out in any way I could."
He helped plenty, carrying 31 times for 192 yards and a touchdown
When Nebraska’s offensive starters were revealed on the big screen before the game, both Bryant and junior Mikale Wilbon were announced.
It turned into the biggest game of Bryant's young career on a night when Nebraska needed its running game to be solid.
His 31 carries were the most by a Husker under Mike Riley and the most by a Nebraska back since 2014, when Ameer Abdullah — you may remember him — had 35 carries for 229 yards against Miami in another night game in Lincoln that didn't quite go down to the wire like this one.
"Late in the week we decided to let him go and play. And that the substitution would be done when he got tired," NU coach Mike Riley said. "And we're fortunate. I think we've got two, maybe three guys who are all-purpose backs. They can run, they can protect, they can catch. We played around with one of them being a third down back, but we just decided not to do that and just let Tre play.
A 24-yard run early in the second quarter on which Bryant got to the second level, broke a tackle, reversed field and broke away again before going down in the Arkansas State red zone was the longest of his career and marked one of the few times he came out of the game. Mikale Wilbon got the final two carries of that drive, going 8 yards, and then the final 7 to put NU up 24-14.
His career long lasted for a quarter.
On Nebraska's fourth play of the second half — and Bryant's fourth consecutive carry to open the second half — he broke free around the left side for 35 yards. The run put him over 100 for the night, and later led to his lone touchdown on a 1-yard dive.
Bryant's previous best day in a Husker uniform came last season against Maryland, when he had 13 carries for 56 yards. He surpassed both numbers by halftime Saturday, finishing the opening two quarters with 13 carries for 78 yards.
Bryant said he didn't know he would get the start until Huskers coaches made the first personnel call of the night on Nebraska's opening drive. But with the way carries had been getting divided in practice, he said, he knew there was a shot he was in for a big night.
"I was just coming in with the attitude of, whatever happens, happens," Bryant said. "It felt good to kind of get in that rhythm, to hit the hole on a certain play over and over and see them creep into the hole so now you bounce it outside and set things up a little better."
Nebraska had seven rushes that didn't go to Bryant, with Wilbon getting a pair of carries for 15 yards and a score, and fullback Luke McNitt getting a carry at the goal line that was stopped for no gain.
Bryant gave much of the credit to his offensive line.
"They did tremendous. I got to the second level untouched, that's all you can ask, then it's up to me to do the rest," Bryant said. "Just the offensive line getting movement up front, then covering up people and the second level. Like I said, there were a lot of times I got to the second level untouched. That was all my blockers. I can't take credit for any of that."