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Thursday notebook: O-line embraces physical approach

While there’s been much discussion about Nebraska’s lopsided play calling in last week’s opener, there was one group of Huskers that loved every bit of the script of 51 rushing attempts.

The offensive line got a taste of what the NU fronts of old got to do, and the unit relished going right at Fresno State’s defense and establishing a tone of physicality from the opening snap.

“It was definitely fun to get out there and establish the run,” sophomore left tackle Nick Gates said. “That’s something we wanted to do was to come out there and show we are a physical team, transfer over what we learned from last season and put it toward this season.

“I don’t think every game is going to be like that, be able to run the ball 51 times and be as successful as we were, but we would definitely like to if we could.”

The performance by the o-line was especially impressive considering it featured three new starters and two others starting their first games at new positions.

Gates made his first start at left tackle and senior Dylan Utter made his debut at center, while Tanner Farmer (right guard), David Knevel (right tackle), and Sam Hahn (left guard) all cracked the starting lineup for the first time.

Despite so many new faces at new positions, Gates said he couldn’t have been happier with how well the offensive line communicated and gelled in their first test of the season.

“It felt like we didn’t have three new guys on the line,” Gates said. “I felt we meshed pretty well and were pretty consistent with three guys that just started their first games of their careers…

“We just communicate real well together. We were consistent and things like that. The coaches trusted us to put the game on us and let us get the rushing yards we needed.”

- Robin Washut

Stoltenberg out vs. Wyoming with knee injury

Mike Riley was once again the bearer of some unexpected bad news following Thursday’s practice, as he announced that sophomore starting defensive Mick Stoltenberg would be out for Nebraska’s home game vs. Wyoming after suffering a knee injury earlier this week.

The good news was Stoltenberg, who has already recovered from ACL injuries in both of his knees, would only be getting arthroscopic surgery and there was no ligament damage suffered.

It was a non-contact injury the same knee he hurt at the start of bowl practice last December.

Riley said the 6-foot-5, 290-pounder from Gretna, Neb., could return to action as soon as next week’s home game vs. Oregon.

“We have five guys, and they’ll play well,” Riley said. “I guess the good part of that is we don’t anticipate Mick being gone too long.”

Riley said redshirt freshman Carlos Davis would get the start in Stoltenberg’s place, while others like Khalil Davis, Logan Rath, and Peyton Newell would all move up in the defensive tackle rotation.

While it will mark the first career start for Carlos Davis, Riley said he was very confident that he and the rest of d-tackle depth would be ready to rise to the occasion.

“Obviously we hate the injury,” Riley said. “But we are excited for the Davis Twins to be playing. Logan Rath is stepping in there, and Logan’s had a good camp and is ready to go. Peyton Newell has moved up into the mix there.

"So we’ll be all right for the game. These guys will play well.”

- Robin Washut

Devine Ozigbo was the "hot hand" last week and posted a career night vs. Fresno State.

'Hot hand' will determine backfield rotation

As if Nebraska’s competition at running back wasn’t already heated enough over the course of the offseason, Saturday’s performance complicated things even further as to how the Huskers should divvy out the workload this season.

Sophomore Devine Ozigbo led the way with a career-best 17 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns, but senior Terrell Newby started the game and posted a solid 56 yards on 11 attempts.

On top of that, true freshman Tre Bryant showed flashes in his debut by averaging 7.2 yards on five rushes.

Running backs coach Reggie Davis downplayed the outing by his group a bit, saying he thought they “did all right” despite posting 292 yards and five touchdowns as a team.

“Obviously you like the yards that the ‘O’ put up,” Davis said. “Really, focusing on some things as far as no negative-yard runs, and I thought our guys did a really good job of making sure that didn’t happen. Terrell had a couple where things went bad in the backfield for him, but he was able to get us back to the line of scrimmage. Which, second and 10 isn’t what you want, but it sure is better than second and 15 or 14.

“So it’s little things like that that we’ve been harping on ever since camp has started. I was able to see some of those things and was happy to see some of those things. It will make us better.”

Ozigbo said the plan going in was for the backs to rotate after a scheduled number of drives and each having a set amount of packages they would play throughout the game.

But after Newby played the first two drives and Ozigbo checked in for the third series, the rotation for the rest of the game came down to who the coaches thought was the most effective back.

In other words, the key to which player gets the biggest workload will likely come down to who makes the most out of the opportunities they receive each week.

“(The coaches) are going to play their hot hand,” Ozigbo said. “So you’ve got to get out there and be hot early. It’s a thing that all the backs focus on, getting your carries and making the most of them early.”

- Robin Washut

Natter relishes opportunity to make an impact

AJ Natter’s final stat line in Saturday night’s win over Fresno State would hardly even garner a second glance from the casual observer.

But when you take into account the long road the junior defensive end had to take before getting that one solo tackle against the Bulldogs, it’s easy to see why it was a highlight game.

Having played in just five career games coming into this season, including only two appearances in last year, Natter’s development has been much slower than expected since committing to Nebraska as a three-star recruit in the fall of 2012.

When the Huskers lost two of their top defensive ends from last season in Jack Gangwish and Greg McMullen over the offseason, though, Natter knew this year was his best opportunity yet.

“It’s something you learn,” Natter said. “Coming in, you want to play right away, but I’m happy with the process that’s gone by… Every year’s different, but this year, my goal is to play. I want to do whatever I can do to help the team, whether that means coming in when someone’s tired or whatnot.

“I think that everything happens for a reason. I’m happy where I am right now, I mean I’m obviously not content with it, but I can just keep working harder and harder until I reach that ultimate goal of being as good as I can be.”

- Robin Washut

De'Mornay Pierson-El will be back as Nebraska's No. 1 punt returner on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Quick hits

***Riley announced that senior cornerback Charles Jackson has put football aside and is no longer practicing with the team.

***Jackson is still on scholarship and enrolled in classes, and he will finish up his degree and focus on taking care of his family. Riley said the move was Jackson’s decision.

***Riley said safety Antonio Reed has been fully cleared and will play on Saturday.

***Riley said De’Mornay Pierson-El will be the No. 1 punt returner vs. Wyoming, though how many returns he gets in the game will depend on how Wyoming punts to him.

***Riley said they will stick with the same rotation at left guard, with Sam Hahn starting and Corey Whitaker as the top backup.

***Riley confirmed that offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh will be on the sideline for Saturday’s game.