LINCOLN – Nebraska discovered a running game Saturday against South Alabama.
And Terrell Newby proved to be the leader of that rushing attack.
The junior I-back ran for a career-best 198 yards and two touchdowns and had another score on a reception in Nebraska’s 48-9 win at Memorial Stadium.
Newby had 28 out of NU’s 37 carries and gave coach Mike Riley what he was looking for in a featured running back.
“We had talked about that (Friday) and we thought that (having one main ballcarrier) might be important,” Riley said. “He’s a guy that we thought was our first-string back and we thought maybe one thing we needed to do better was give him the ball and let him stay in the game and maybe find a better rhythm.”
Everything clicked for the Huskers early on. Nate Gerry easily picked off a deep pass by Cody Clements to end the Jaguars’ first possession.
NU followed that up by driving 75 yards in 10 plays with Newby toting the ball six times for 40 yards. Tommy Armstrong Jr. hit Lane Hovey for a 25-yard gain on third-and-8 from the South Alabama 38-yard line.
Two plays later, Newby went untouched up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown to give the Huskers a 7-0 lead with 10:02 left in the opening quarter.
“I knew we were going to implement the running game early,” Newby said. “Obviously that’s when we started getting things going.”
Establishing the running game early was an important focus for the Huskers.
“The offensive line had a good push up front,” Newby said. “I was confident on the opening drive.”
Less than four minutes later, Nebraska doubled its lead.
A 25-yard punt allowed the Huskers to start their second possession at the South Alabama 40-yard line. Newby took a swing pass eight yards for the touchdown.
He finished with two catches for 38 yards.
“He played amazing,” said Armstrong, who went 21-for-30 for 270 yards with two touchdowns. “He did everything good. He caught the ball well. He ran well. I went up to him before the game and told him, ‘Accept the challenges the coaches gave you. Make sure you run hard. Be the guy who wants the ball in tough situations.’ He said, ‘I got you.’
“He ran like he was being chased by everybody. I’m proud of him.”
After coming up empty on its third possession, Nebraska got back into the scoring groove with a nine-play, 91-yard drive which ended with another Newby touchdown.
He cut around a couple of defenders to sneak through the defensive line en route to an 8-yard score which also pushed him over 100-yards rushing with 7:06 remaining in the first half.
“I thought their running back, No. 34 (Newby), was excellent,” South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. “Either he’s a really good running back or we’re not very good tacklers.”
Newby surpassed his previous career high in rushing yards by halftime.
“His production was good, and I thought the line did a nice job,” Riley said. “The fullbacks did a nice job. Andy (Janovich) did a nice job in there and (so did) the tight ends. It was good. If we can continue to do that, it would be helpful for our team.”
Having one main ballcarrier is something Riley usually had during his tenure at Oregon State.
“We have for most of our lives been like that with a back, giving him the ball 30 times a game, something like that,” he said. “Recently it’s been a little different, last year only and here because this team has good depth with backs. We wanted to take a look at what that might be like if we rotated until last week.
“After we played the game (against BYU), we decided it might be best if Terrell was our first-string back and it might be best to let him play, find that rhythm and be productive. Right now it was a good decision for us.”
Newby said things have been going well for him in practice, and it felt good to get the opportunity to carry that much of a rushing load for the first time since high school.
“I didn’t know I had that many (carries) until after the game,” he said. “I’m kind of feeling the side effects a little bit, but I’m feeling good. I’m just a little sore.”
South Alabama came up empty on its best chance to score in the first half after driving down to the 4-yard line.
The Jaguars converted a pair of third-and-longs on passes from Clements to Josh Magee for 55 yards and to Kevin Kutchera for 17 to extend the drive and get inside the red zone for the first time.
But Clements couldn’t complete a pass on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
Nebraska took advantage of a gift to extend its lead to 24-0 as the half expired. The Huskers recovered a muffed punt at the South Alabama 45-yard line with 16 seconds left.
Armstrong quickly hit Brandon Reilly for a 20-yard gain. Reilly, Hovey and Alonzo Moore all had five catches for the balanced Huskers, who passed the ball 38 times and ran it 37.
After an incomplete throw into the end zone, the Huskers sent out Drew Brown to convert a 42-yard field goal.
Imani Cross saw his first action at running back on the Huskers’ second drive of the second half after Newby ripped off a 32-yard run aided by an Armstrong block.
Cross scored from nine yards out and Nebraska’s lead was up to 31-0 with 8:04 remaining in the third quarter.
South Alabama got on the scoreboard on a 36-yard field goal by Aleem Sunanon with 6:04 to go in the third.
A 25-yard field goal by Brown, a 21-yard pass from Armstrong to Jordan Westerkamp and a 2-yard pass from Ryker Fyfe to Moore capped off Nebraska’s scoring.