LINCOLN — Andy Janovich has been around the Nebraska program for awhile, even if you wouldn’t know it from the stat sheet.
The senior fullback entered the season with just six career rushing yards and 29 receiving yards. Both numbers changed in a hurry Saturday during the Huskers’ 36-28 victory over Southern Miss.
The Huskers went way back in time and pulled an old Tom Osborne favorite out of the closet. The old fullback trap play, pretty much forgotten since the end of the Frank Solich era, returned with great success.
Janovich had five carries for 68 yards against Southern Miss. He even had a touchdown that was called back because of a penalty and also caught a pass for a 53-yard gain.
The Nebraska sports information department couldn’t pinpoint it exactly, but said that was the longest pass reception by a fullback since at least 1979.
Janovich didn’t even touch the ball in the first three games this season, but there was a reason for that.
“When you don’t have a good look for it, you’re not going to just force a bad run into a bad defensive front,” Husker offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “We had good looks for it. We knew going in we felt good about it and we felt good about him.”
Janovich’s runs will remind old-time Husker fans of guys like Tom Rathman or Cory Schlesinger. He may be as good a runner as either of those players, but he just hasn’t gotten the chance.
The Huskers would like to get him more chances, but it just depends on what kind of defenses they run up against from here on out.
“We’ve liked how Andy runs the ball,” Langsdorf said. “We’ve played some 3-4 teams and that makes it tough. Some of the 4-3 fronts we really liked him in. I thought he did great. He hit some big ones and he ran hard and broke some tackles on a couple, too.”
Janovich surprised everyone when he popped through the line for a 25-yard run on the first play of the second quarter to move the ball to the Southern Miss 27. That set up the second of Drew Brown’s five first-half field goals.
“It was kind of exciting just because he’s a physical guy,” quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. “He shows out on special teams, and just going out there and seeing one or two guys trying to tackle him and he comes off of a five- to six-yard gain and turns it into a 35-40 yard gain.
“It’s incredible because you’ve got to show your fullbacks some love every once in a while just because they go out there and dive in the trenches and try to cut blocks and cut guys down on defensive ends and the linebackers.”
Janovich later broke loose for a 28-yard gain late in the third quarter to put the Huskers in scoring position at the Southern Miss 18. The Huskers ended that drive with a 10-yard scoring pass from Armstrong to Taariq Allen.
Both those runs of 28 and 25 yards were the longest by a Husker fullback since Steve Kriewald went 48 yards late in the game against Oklahoma in 2004.
Langsdorf likes having Janovich involved in the running game when possible.
“Any time you can add another runner to that group it’s a good thing,” Langsdorf said. “I like how he responded. I think he’s been a good receiver out of the backfield, too. We haven’t done a bunch of that, but I like how he caught and ran with it and I thought in fall camp he looked good doing it too.”
Junior receiver Jordan Westerkamp said the Huskers were excited when Janovich’s number was called in the huddle.
“Andy Janovich is a hard worker and a great player,” he said. “It kind of throws the defense off when we use the fullback dive and he had some great runs. He’s hard to bring down.”
Janovich could be a key cog in the Husker running game if they get the right defensive looks in Big Ten play. The running game hasn’t been bad, just maybe not as explosive as some people would like.
The Huskers ran for 242 yards on 39 attempts, which is 6.2 yards per try. It was kind of a team effort. Terrell Newby had 76 yards, Janovich 68 and Armstrong 63 to lead the way.
“At times we’re inconsistent with some things,” Langsdorf said. “We’ll run a play and it’s great. We’ll come back to it later and it’s not good. Sometimes that’s the defensive look we’re getting. Sometimes it’s just being able to mix it up enough to not get in some bad situations.”
But the Huskers stuck with it throughout the game.
“We bounced a few runs that we’d like to hit up inside a little bit quicker,” Langsdorf said. “We got stretched a few times and didn’t set edges well enough in the stretch game to get positive yards. We’ll get some things ironed out. I thought our production was still pretty good.”
There were some short gains, those of the 1- or 2-yard varieties. That’s going to happen. Langsdorf said you just want to eliminate the negative plays along the way.
But they have to stick with the running game even if it’s not always turning out huge hunks of yardage.
And they will likely stick with the fullback runs too...if they get the right looks from the defense.
“We think he’s a good player,” Langsdorf said of Janovich. “We’ve liked what he’s shown, but we’re not going to run a play against a bad front that’s not going to work.”