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2023 Nebraska Football Position Battle: Running Backs

Who will carry the load?

Oklahoma v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

When there is a new coaching staff, everyone is under a new microscope. It’s the perfect chance for the new coaches to analyze what they inherited while scouting who they have brought in via transfers and recruiting. So now the questions arrive, who starts for Matt Rhule? Today we look at the running backs.

Anthony Grant:

2022 Season Stats: 218 rushing attempts 915 yards 6 TDs

Grant is my assumption to resume the starting role here. A senior who has a physical presence in the run game to inflict pain on anyone who dares tackle him. Yes, his average was 4.2 yards per carry, but keep in mind the O-line was banged up a lot of last year but looked better towards the end. A healthier O-line that can gel quickly could boost his numbers pretty fast. Former head coach Scott Frost chose to ride him the most when he was the hot hand in the run game.

The case for Grant:

He’s the incumbent. A solid build for a B1G running back that can pound the rock with relative ease. Has the most experience of any returning back and will look to become Nebraska’s next 1000-yard rusher.

Rahmir Johnson:

2022 Season Stats: 19 rushing attempts 85 yards

Rahmir is an interesting case, suiting up for 10 games last season but averaging less than 2 attempts per game. At roughly 4.5 yards per carry many Cornhusker fans were looking to see what he had to offer in his sophomore season, but not much knowledge was gained.

Johnson’s speed can offer versatility in both the running and passing game, especially if toss sweeps and screens are prominent in the new offensive scheme. I think we’ll see a much-improved season statistically for a guy I think is underrated.

The case for Johnson:

I believe he has the best speed of all returning running backs, which could be helpful in the warmer weather games. It’s a lot tougher to run outside the tackles in the frozen B1G in November. Provides a good change of pace.

Gabe Ervin Jr:

2022 Season Stats: 20 rushing attempts 94 yards

With the transfers of both Ajay Allen and Jaquez Yant, last year’s stats imply Ervin takes over the lead backup role. Averaging 4.7 yards per carry last year, Ervin was a guy who could bruise his way into the extra few inches needed for a first down. A complimentary big body to Grant, look for Nebraska to use a second big running back, particularly down the stretch after it gets cold (sometime between tomorrow and December).

The case for Ervin:

Sightly bigger than Grant, which could bode well against B1G teams with bigger defensive linemen. Not as much wear and tear from last year, so could prove to be a viable option early in the year if not everyone is ready to go. Can punish teams between the tackles.


Now for the guys who don’t have stat sheets from last year. Let’s take the time to acknowledge/welcome Emmett Johnson, Trevin Luben, Cole Ballard, Kwinten Ives and Isaiah Harris.

Some of these guys are walk-ons, some are incoming freshmen, and others are fullbacks (sheds a happy tear), but they will all have a role to play. If you don’t think it’s important to acknowledge everyone who helps day in and day out, well as a guy who never started much in his playing days, let me thank you in advance for all you do this season.

If it is just scout-team work or if you get the chance to gain that much needed extra foot on 4th and 1, we look forward to seeing you dawn the “N” this season. With the redshirt rules being the way they are currently, expect a couple of these guys to get a few carries in the 4 games they can play in without burning the redshirt.

Ultimately, I believe the starter is Grant, but I would love to know who you think gets the shot to start the year. Maybe we find a nice hidden gem somewhere along the line. All I know is this: come rain, shine, hell, frozen hell or high water/snow drifts, the running game will always be the most loved part of Husker football.

Go Big Red!