LINCOLN — Nebraska will have all four I-backs available at Indiana after coach Mike Riley said Thursday that Devine Ozigbo was ready to go.
The Huskers’ second-leading rusher is coming back from an ankle injury suffered in the Illinois game.
“He looked good today … had a pretty good workout yesterday,” Riley said. “We didn’t know today what was going to happen, but he had quite a few reps in practice.”
Ozigbo has run for 318 yards and four touchdowns. After senior Terrell Newby and Ozigbo, Nebraska also has used Mikale Wilbon and Tre Bryant at times.
“It just improves our depth with players that have already played in the game,” Riley said. “That’s probably the biggest deal. I like Devine a lot. It’s comforting to have him.”
Riley said it also looks as if right guard Tanner Farmer (ankle) is ready to return to the offensive line. And right tackle David Knevel (ankle) and receiver Alonzo Moore (shoulder) had no setbacks this week.
NU adjusting without Carter
Nebraska will have to adjust to not having tight end Cethan Carter. The senior is the leading receiver at that position with 10 catches and also a dependable blocker, but he’s out indefinitely with an elbow injury.
“It does affect the game plan,” Riley said. “It affects what we might try to do in some instances with our tight end. But I think Sam Cotton is having a real good year, and he can play a pretty versatile role. Not exactly like Cethan, but good in another way.”
Nebraska also has a third senior with Trey Foster, and can utilize Tyler Hoppes and H-back Luke McNitt at the position.
Riley said it also will hurt to be without leading receiver Jordan Westerkamp, but expects Brandon Reilly to be solid taking over that role in the slot.
Thriving on third down
Can Nebraska continue its third-down success? Riley definitely would be for anything close to it.
Through five games, the Huskers have converted on third down 35 of 66 times, and their 53.0 percent rate sits behind only Toledo (56.8 percent) and Texas Tech (53.1) among FBS programs.
Nebraska finished last season at 44.8 percent, which ranked No. 24 nationally.
“I’ve seen very few teams through the years over 50 percent,” Riley said. “Would love to stay up in that area. Would just love it. And that’s what our goal will be.”
Riley attributed the Huskers’ current success to being better at what they’re doing passing-wise on third down, benefiting from quarterback Tommy Armstrong being able to run on third down and NU just putting itself in better situations.
Special on special teams
Riley again Thursday lauded the effort of some Huskers on special teams, and specifically Brad Simpson, Chris Weber, JoJo Domann and McNitt.
“I’m really, really proud of those guys,” Riley said.
Simpson is a senior backup linebacker from Ralston who went on scholarship in August. He is the points leader on special teams, which Riley said is determined by how players carry out certain assignments.
“What a great job he’s done,” Riley said. “He’s been really good. He takes it seriously. He’s a good leader in that area, and he’s productive.”
Riley said NU’s specialists also help set the pace with their work.
Riley in favor of adding coach
Riley strongly favors the possibility of a 10th assistant coach being added in college football. That was recently announced as a proposal by the NCAA Oversight Committee.
“I think it’s long overdue,” he said. “We have lots of coaches, but we actually have what you would say is the worst student-teacher ratio of all the sports.”
NU currently uses one of its full-time spots as a special teams coordinator (Bruce Read) and has a graduate assistant coach tight ends (Tavita Thompson). Riley said he could see programs using that 10th assistant to oversee special teams.
Riley said he has been a proponent of adding an assistant for 10 years, because “it directly affects the product.”
“I don’t mean to get on the soapbox, but it’s been on my mind a long time,” he said. “I think it’s important for the players, it’s important for recruiting, it’s important for the coaching on the field, and it improves the student-teacher ratio. So I was really glad to hear that.”
Riley said he didn’t know what kind of chance it might have of passing.
Nebraska at Indiana
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington , Indiana
Radio: 103.1 FM