BYU vs. Nebraska, 9.5.2015

Nebraska running back Mikale Wilbon (21) eludes BYU defenders Michael Davis (15) and Jordan Preator (20) in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Memorial Stadium. Wilbon, Terrell Newby and Imani Cross combined for 91 yards on 23 carries in the loss to BYU.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

Nobody needs to remind Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf of the importance of running the ball effectively to finish off opponents. They're coaching veterans. Both have worked in the NFL. They get it.

Which is why Nebraska's failures on three separate third-and-short plays during the fourth quarter Saturday likely will gnaw at them. By converting a first down on any of the three attempts, the Huskers' chances to salt away a win against BYU would've escalated considerably.

Instead, the inability to convert underscored what many felt was a concern entering the season. That is, Nebraska may indeed lack a potent running game. Yes, it's obviously too early to concede. But it's safe to say there's not an Ameer Abdullah in the stable. Or a Rex Burkhead. Or a Roy Helu. Perhaps not even a Brandon Jackson.

You know, a go-to back.

Perhaps it's only a matter of time and added confidence before someone rises up. We'll see.

Meanwhile, as expected, Nebraska is using a committee approach at the position, although Langsdorf, the offensive coordinator, indicated a willingness to stick to one back if someone settles into a rhythm.

"We've been prepping for some guys who do certain things well" and using them accordingly, Langsdorf said after Saturday's 33-28 defeat.

But Langsdorf, who calls the plays, acknowledged it can be a challenge for a running back to find rhythm in a committee approach.

"We have to really grade it and look at it closely, and maybe if one guy is doing something well, maybe we can add a little bit more to his plate and see if we can't give him some more touches or just more plays in the game overall," he said.

Three running backs — junior Terrell Newby, senior Imani Cross and redshirt freshman Mikale Wilbon — combined to run 23 times for 91 yards, or 3.96 per carry. The Huskers as a team finished with 126 rushing yards on 37 attempts (3.4). Keep in mind, NU has averaged at least 200 rushing yards per game each of the past five seasons, ranking in the national top 20 each of those years.

At halftime against BYU, though, Nebraska's three backs had a combined 22 yards on only eight carries, in part because quarterback Tommy Armstrong was 10-for-12 passing in the first quarter (before sliding to 3-for-15 in the second).

In the second half, you saw the backs pick up steam as blocking improved. Wilbon (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) and Newby (5-10, 200) are the speedy and shifty guys, while Cross (6-1, 230) brings the power element.

"I thought Imani ran hard on the inside power," Langsdorf said. "I thought Wilbon and Newby hit some stretch runs that were pretty nice with some good speed. I thought we occasionally caught the ball out of the backfield. We probably could've checked the ball down a couple times, especially to Newby.

"I think we have to get them a few more touches."

Newby led the way with 10 carries for 43 yards. Cross had seven for 34. Wilbon added six for 14 while catching two passes for 28 yards.

Langsdorf didn't think Nebraska would throw the ball 41 times — he was hoping fewer attempts would be necessary, he said. He credited BYU's run defense.

Still, "I think we'd like to run a little more, if possible," he said. 

Langsdorf accepted blame for the fourth-quarter failures on third-and-short. Armstrong was stopped on a sneak, Newby on a stretch play and Jamal Turner on a jet sweep. It's nice to hear a coach take responsibility. But the players have to have more of a killer mentality — the backs, linemen, everyone.

Remember Burkhead's nose for the first-down marker? Remember the wild abandon with which Abdullah ran? Nebraska's backs soon may grow tired of people bringing up those guys.

Come to think of it, that just might be a good thing. 

* Remember Adam Taylor, the guy who rushed for 2,754 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior at Katy High School in the Houston area? I still think the NU sophomore will be a factor at some point. "He's probably a little bit behind a couple of those guys," Langsdorf said. "He's doing a good job. You know, it's a crowded backfield."

And a long season.

* Armstrong handled BYU's extensive blitz package well for the most part, Langsdorf said. He said it's possible Nebraska won't see another defense that blitzes as often. "They like to crank it up," he said.

The Cougars will have to keep cranking hard. Their next three games: Boise State in Provo, Utah; at UCLA; and at Michigan. Looks like a 2-2 start to me. With Taysom Hill, it could've been 3-1.

* The late Adrian Fiala is missed on TV. He's missed on radio. He's also missed at Melichar's 66 service station on the corner of Ninth and P streets. Jeff Melichar, 36, who smiles easily, grins as he recalls how Fiala used to swing by the shop on Friday mornings to take him to the Big Red Breakfast in Omaha. Fiala and his wife had no children. So, Jeff was Adrian's son on those mornings. Jeff is as knowledgeable a Husker football fan as you'll find. Adrian evidently taught him a thing or two.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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