There’s good and bad news for the Run The Damn Ball Guys (and Gals, since we’re being all-inclusive here) in the Nebraska football fan base.
Let’s rip the band-aid right off and come out with it: times are changing and the I-back as we know it is a dying breed when it comes to the players wearing a big red “N” on the side of their helmets. Look on the bright side, though, because much like the Scott Frost’s offense, the evolution of what Nebraska fans will call for on any given play will evolve with the times.
Why? Here’s why:
RTDBGs won’t be happy about the fact that they probably won’t see a running back accumulate 1,000 yards on the ground for the fifth consecutive season. However, I have absolutely no doubt that they would trade less carries and far more points for less scoring and advancing the football how Nebraska did in the days of yore. If they still hold out, I can just about guarantee they’ll have far more fun watching this offense operate.
Reviewing Frost’s brief stint at UCF, six players got regular carries in 2016, two quarterbacks and four running backs. This is where we saw McKenzie Milton begin to shine. Three of those backs combined for 1,283 yards in Dontravious Wilson, Jawon Hamilton, and some guy named Adrian Killins.
Quarterback Justin Holman had been starting and did account for two scores on the ground, but after suffering a hamstring injury two games into the season, Milton stepped in and never relinquished the job. Instead, he added 158 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
Skip ahead to last season and we see where Frost’s offense will be in Lincoln around year three give or take, specifically when everything’s humming like a fine-tuned machine even against the best of competition.
Killins jumped to the head of the pack in both yards and scores on the ground (790 and 10, respectively) ahead of only Milton who checked in with 613 yards and eight touchdowns of his own. Frost had a lot of fun introducing wide receiver Otis Anderson as a running threat on a frequent basis. He ended up with 69 carries for 494 yards and four scores of his own. This is definitely a role that Nebraska sophomore JD Spielman could thrive in.
Junior running back Taj McGowan had just as many carries as Anderson, but twice the scoring output. We’d see two other backs get in on the action in Cordarrian Richardson and Greg McCrae who contributed a combined 312 yards and four touchdowns to the cause.
Here’s where the evolution occurs.
In 2016, those same three backs had double-digit catches and totaled 349 yards receiving. This is where we would see Killins’ potential as he led that charge with 18 catches for 198 yards and two scores.
2017 didn’t feature Killins or any other back quite as much (he caught 25 balls for 169 yards and one touchdown). However, one must keep in mind the other factors that defenses had to account for on the ground (Killins, Milton, Anderson, etc.). Then we add in the work of tight ends Jordan Akins (515 yards, four touchdowns receiving) and Michael Colubiale (10 catches for 221 yards and one touchdown).
Suddenly, the trend you’re seeing isn’t necessarily one of feeding the ball to a given playmaker repeatedly as Husker fans have become accustomed to in the past. Rather, the question becomes who puts this offense in the best position to score points?
On one play it may be Frost’s quarterback alone. On another, it’s one or two wide receivers depending on certain factors. On another, it’s either the quarterback or the running back in a read-option look and so on and so on.
Run The Damn Ball Guy (and Gal) will eventually not care how points are scored, but that they’re scored at all which has been sorely lacking in recent years. Nebraska has averaged a national rank of 48th in scoring offense going back to Bo Pelini’s first year at the helm in 2008 and only touted two top-20 marks during those years.
Even if Nebraska struggles with defensive production somewhat moving forward — and they will because this is a total rebuild, so that’s just reality — it doesn’t matter because so many points will eventually be scored in their favor that the opposition won’t be able to keep up.
Some dispositions can only remain sour for so long when the home scoreboard lights up like a tilted pinball machine and Warren Buffett’s buying stock in fireworks.
Simply put: RTDBGs will evolve not due to a sudden loss of admiration for Nebraska football tradition, but rather by embracing its future and being too damn entertained to care.