LINCOLN — Presented with his largest workload of the season, Dedrick Mills responded with a breakout performance for Nebraska in Saturday’s 37-21 home loss to No. 15-ranked Wisconsin.
Given a season-high 17 carries, Mills produced a career-high 188 rushing yards, including a 12-yard TD run in the first quarter.
“I just got the opportunity to get out there and run the ball. That’s what I did,” Mills said. “I ran hard and physical — what I’ve been told all week, what I’ve been told all year (and) what I’ve been told my whole life running the ball, ‘run hard.’ That’s what you all saw today.”
Previously, Mills’ best showing with the Cornhuskers was a 116-yard rushing day on 11 carries against Northern Illinois. His previous career high was a 169-yard performance his freshman season at Georgia Tech against Kentucky when he was named MVP of the 2016 Gator Bowl.
Mills became just the second running back to top the 100-yard mark in rushing this season against a Wisconsin defense that came to Memorial Stadium second in the Big Ten Conference in rushing defense, allowing 84 yards per game. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior joined Ohio State’s JK Dobbins, who had 163 yards, as the only players to eclipse the century mark against the Badgers in 2019.
“Dedrick played his tail off and was really running hard and breaking tackles,” Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “I think our offensive line did a great job as well moving those guys up front.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost credited Mills and the Huskers’ offensive coaching staff.
“We put (Mills) in some stuff that he was a little more comfortable with and he just got more chances today,” Frost said. “Also, a bunch of credit to the offensive line. I thought those guys probably had their best run-blocking game of the year.”
Expecting to get more carries with fellow running back Wan’Dale Robinson sidelined with an injury, Mills said he was determined to make sure he wasn’t outplayed by Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. While Taylor rushed for 204 yards and two TDs on 25 attempts, Mills held his own in the running back comparison.
“I couldn’t let (Taylor) do better than me today,” Mills said. “They’ve been talking about him all year, so I had to go out there and prove myself (and) show everyone what they can expect from me and anytime I get on the field from now on.”
Mills said Nebraska had success with its “mid-zone” running game against the Badgers.
“I was breaking it every time,” Mills said. “That is pretty much a common weakness of their defense. They can’t hold the mid zone, can’t fill gaps, but we just hit the holes really hard and just ran to give a second effort and not letting one person make a tackle.”
Mills could’ve had an even bigger rushing day as he broke free on a 43-yard gain early in the fourth quarter and was tight-roping the sideline with the end zone in sight. However, Mills couldn’t quite maintain his balance and stepped out of bounds at the Wisconsin 23-yard line.
“I feel like I had it, then I leaned a little bit too much toward the sideline and ended up going out of bounds,” Mills said. “I wish I could’ve got that one back because I wish I would’ve scored on that one.”
Not getting into the end zone enough was a source of frustration for Nebraska’s offense all day against the Badgers. The Huskers had a 493-482 advantage in total offense, but saw three drives ended with fourth-down stops by Wisconsin’s defense inside its own 35.
“Once we get down there, we have to finish,” Mills said. “We have to find a way to dig deep down inside and give everything we’ve got to finish and get in the end zone. Then, you can take your break when you get on the sideline.”
Regardless, Mills said his outlook improved dramatically after his play against the Badgers.
“It’s brought my confidence all the way up. I’m past the sky right now,” Mills said. “I played really well today. I felt good for the offensive line because they really blocked their tail off today.”
Mills said he’s ready to play an even larger role for Nebraska’s offense if called upon.
“You can expect me to carry the ball as many times as they need me to,” he said. “I’m always prepared. I’m always ready.”