It's been a running back by committee this year, which isn't a far stretch from where it's been the last few years. We have to remember that even when former Husker running back Cory Ross was here, while he certainly got most of the reps behind the quarterback, much of it had to do with just a lack of personnel to share the load.
This year has been a lot different than those times.
During that time he's been productive, averaging over four yards per carry this year, scoring seven touchdowns while rushing for 517 yards. Where he's been at his best, though, is when he's a dual-threat, which he was again this year, catching 22 balls for 275 yards and a score.
Not necessarily a surprise this year, but certainly a welcome addition, has been sophomore running back Roy Helu Jr. With 804 yards this season, he led the team in rushing, as did his whopping 6.1 yards per carry average. Helu also added seven touchdowns via the ground game. And like Lucky, he proved to be useful as a receiver, catching 25 balls for 266 yards on the season.
Completing the trio in the backfield is sophomore running back Quentin Castille, a bruiser-type with unexpected versatility with his feet. Castille netted 342 yards on the ground on 88 carries, scoring six times during the season. As a receiver he has eight caches for 89 yards this year.
The three have combined for a potent running game, which when complimented with senior quarterback Joe Ganz, who rushed for 257 yards, scoring five touchdowns, the Huskers finished 37th in the country in rushing yards per game, averaging just a little over 173 per contest.
If you want to break them down as far as ability, Lucky is by far the most proven dual-threat, this year his last with the Huskers, his career totals showing how versatile he is, totaling 2,393 yards on the ground, while he's racked up 1,732 yards through the air.
Helu certainly shows himself to have that kind of potential, but from what they have showed on the field Lucky gets the most opportunities in this aspect of the game, making both Helu and Castille somewhat unproven commodities.
One thing we can safely say about Helu, though, is that he's almost the definition of a playmaker.
With the physicality to run inside and move the pile in short-yaradage situations or simply the ability to take a crease and make it a hole, where he explodes for additional yards – he's as dynamic as he is consistent. One of the big intangibles about Helu is the fact that even when things aren't going so well, his motor is always running.
The perfect illustration of that is the Oklahoma game, where Nebraska, down 62-21, the game going into the latter parts of the fourth quarter, saw Helu reel off his season-high rush, as he took the ball 57 yards down in the Red Zone on the Oklahoma side of the field. This was just part of his career-day as he had just 16 carries, but totaled 157 yards, that working out to almost 10 yards per carry.
Castille has had his moments as well, the former Texas prep running back toting the ball for 37 yards in one carry against Kansas State this season. He has proven to be a very formidable north-south runner with the potential to be an all-around back. What's held him in check, however, is himself as he has had a penchant for turnovers, as he has fumbled away the ball four times this year.
The one controversy over the season with this group has simply been due to carries, who is getting them and how much. Helu had 25 carries against Colorado, serving as not only his career-high at Nebraska, but the most carries for a back in a game this season. Marlon Lucky's career-high in carries stands at 30, which he accomplished against Nevada last season, a game which saw the Huskers run for an old-Nebraska-like 400-plus yards in the game.
You can't compare these numbers to those of backs in the good old days, of course, because the rushing attempts aren't even close, the passing game back then wasn't anywhere near where it is right now and let's face it – you can't really compare the option to the west coast.
But this has been the most productive rushing attack since 2004, former Head Coach Bill Callahan's first year, where Nebraska averaged just over 176 yards per game.
THE MATCH UP
How does all this relate to Clemson?
Well, if Clemson has a strong suit on their already hefty defense, which ranked at the end of the regular season as one of the top 20 defenses in the country – it's their ability to be tough at the point of attack.
Now, that isn't always illustrated in the statistics, because they faced a lot of teams which weren't run-heavy, but with Alabama and Georgia Tech you had two of the better running teams in the country.
That's definitely the case with Tech, as the option-running team finished third in the country averaging 282.33 yards per game. The Crimson Tide weren't nearly that high, but at just over 196 yards per game in the defensively heavy SEC, that's a solid ground game.
To Clemson's credit they held Tech to just over 200 yards rushing when they faced off in late-October, and it was the very first game of the season when Alabama totaled just over 230 yards on the Tiger "D."
Also of note is the last three games for Clemson, which came in the midst of and immediately following the dismissal of Head Coach Tommy Bowden, is a run of contests where they didn't allow even 100 yards during a game.
The big dip for the Clemson rush-stopping defense came against Florida State, the game before that three-game win streak to close out the regular season. They gave up a season-high 266 yards against Florida State in the 41-27 loss. While Florida State didn't have a single rusher over 100 yards for that game, they had seven players combine for 36 rushes, with only running back Jermain Thomas and quarterback Christian Ponder totaling at least 10 carries for the game.
Ponder finished the season as the team's third-leading rusher with 404 yards on the ground this year.
Another note here is that Ponder, a quarterback not known for his passing prowess, as he finished the season with 12 touchdowns but 13 interceptions, threw one of each in this game, but was fairly efficient otherwise, completing almost 60 percent of his passes on the game.
The might make one thing back to an old unwritten rule of teams who thrive on running the ball that your quarterback doesn't have to be excellent, they simply have to be efficient and you are going to win some games.
Out of all the teams Clemson has faced this year, only Florida State, Alabama and Georgia Tech averaged more yards per game on the ground than Nebraska.
Clemson lost all three.
And out of those three not one had the passing compliment to the running game, Florida St. ranking the highest in that department, finishing the season ranked 87th in the country, averaging 185.8 yards per game. The Huskers averaged almost a hundred more.
This game sets up nice for Nebraska when you look at what the Clemson defense has done against rushing teams. They have had some success, but it would seem that as the team they face can throw the ball more to set up the run, the run becomes that much more effective.
It's not to say this is going to be a cake walk by any means. The Clemson defense is amongst the top 10 in the country in scoring defense, and they have an interior defensive line which is experienced to the tune of no less than three years per man, and they are both over 300 pounds.
But with the versatility Nebraska has in the running game, both running inside and using the perimeter, along with the very effective passing game out of the backfield, this sets up as a contest where the Huskers can do some things without throwing the ball all over the place.
But that might not be so bad for the Huskers, which we will point out in our next breakdown when we concentrate on the receivers.