Mike Riley had to wait one more week for a chance to win his first game at Nebraska.
Following the Huskers’ loss to BYU -- a game in which NU’s running backs totaled just 103 yards on 23 carries -- solving the riddle at running back was crucial.
That’s just flat out not good enough. Surely not against BYU.
Riley needed to make a commitment, and making junior Terrell Newby his clear-cut No. 1 back might be the best decision he’ll make all season.
Thankfully for Riley, Newby’s finally looking the part. On Saturday night, if he had been wearing Ameer Abdullah’s No. 8 jersey, you wouldn’t have noticed any difference.
He ran for 198 yards on 28 carries, scoring three total touchdowns - all career highs - in Nebraska’s 48-9 win against South Alabama, and for the time being, the Huskers have some sense of the direction they’re heading in.
“One thing we needed to do better was give (Newby) the ball,” Riley said. “We wanted him to stay in the game and find a rhythm.”
But he didn’t just find a rhythm; he set it.
After the opening drive, in which he rushed for 40 yards, capping it with a 13-yard score, he was just three yards short of his total from the previous week.
In the end, Newby’s evening included seven runs of 10-plus yards, while adding 38 yards with a pair of receptions. He made numerous defenders miss. At times, he carried a defender four or five extra yards down the field. When he got outside the tackles, he was the fastest player on the field. When asked to run up the middle, he seemed the strongest.
After spending two years in Abdullah’s shadow, Saturday was an indication that he’s ready to be someone Riley, who has a history of utilizing one primary back, relies on heavily moving forward.
“I’m feeling real good,” Newby said. “I feel like, as an offense, once we get going, we can’t be stopped.”
When he came to Nebraska, Riley probably looked like a kid in a candy shop when he peeked at the depth chart for the first time. Despite being recruited in a system different from his own, he had players with talent at each position, and running back is probably his richest and deepest position. Each guy offers something different.
Heck, each guy could probably start at most schools.
But for Riley, whose pass-first, pro-style offense is a 180-degree change from what Nebraska fans are accustomed to, laying that foundation in the backfield is a humongous step in the right direction.
A solidified running game also relieves quarterback Tommy Armstrong of some pressure. If the Huskers are going to throw the ball more than half the game, an inconsistent Armstrong is going to need all the time he can get. If a defense has to focus on Newby on every play, Armstrong has one less thing to worry about.
And if they don’t focus on Newby -- well, good luck.
Last week, he only got 10 Nebraska’s 23 carries.
This week? He had 28 of 33, and all but one of the rushes that came while the first offense was on the field.
That’s what it looks like when you’re a first-string back. And psychologically, it makes a huge difference.
Yes, it’s South Alabama, and it might be the easiest game NU plays all year.
But this kind of thing had to happen at some point, and the Huskers will be glad it happened before heading to Miami next week. Now 1-1, these guys are starting to figure out exactly who they are. Now that they’ve figured out the plan at running back, maybe they can start piecing together a better idea of what the offense as a whole will start to embody.
At the end of the day, this whole transition thing takes time.
But if Terrell Newby has anything to say about it, it won’t take as long as you might think.
And if he’s keeps up what he did Saturday, these guys have a chance to be pretty darn good.