‘Tough Still Wins’

Nebraska’s New Running Backs Coach Plans to Instill a Hard Edge And Return Nebraska to ‘RBU’

By Jansen Coburn

Bryan Applewhite makes a point to his running backs during spring drills.
Bryan Applewhite makes a point to his running backs during spring drills.

Bryan Applewhite sat down with Scott Frost during his Nebraska interview and watched film of the Huskers’ 2021 season. After four or five rounds of game tape, he came to a realization: Frost’s program is not far from getting back to doing what Husker fans expect.

Winning.

“It’s a tweak here, it’s a tweak there,” Applewhite said. “Places that have a tradition of winning tend to get back to that.”
Another thing Applewhite picked up during his interview: Other coaches believe it, too.

Applewhite finds himself part of a revamped offensive staff that replaces four of five assistants from last season.

Applewhite, who joins Nebraska after two years as running backs coach at TCU, has coached just about every offensive position somewhere at some point. Seeing the game through other coaches’ perspectives makes him a good partner, at least on paper.

Applewhite faces the media after his first day of practice as a Husker coach.
Applewhite faces the media after his first day of practice as a Husker coach.

Other nuggets that can be gleaned from his online bio and his one media appearance with the Huskers so far:
• Coaching other positions has broadened his knowledge of the game.
• For a young coach, he’s been around football for a long time and with a lot of teams. Prior to TCU, stops include Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe, Montana State, Wyoming and Northern Colorado.
• He touts the importance of physicality and running the football.
• He knows a good team when he sees one.
• He believes Frost has assembled a good team.

And, while it’s way too early to put forward much proof, there seems to be a bent toward some power football on the horizon.
“Tough still wins,” Applewhite said. “You can’t build a dynasty without being nasty.”

He may be from TCU, but that sounds like Big Ten talk.

And it fits right in with the vibes from Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, and Donovan Raiola, the new offensive line coach.
Whipple has said he likes to impose his will on defenses and run the ball even when the defense knows it’s coming.

Raiola has made it clear that toughness and discipline are his calling cards.

And here is some evidence that it’s not just talk.

NU linebacker Nick Henrich immediately noticed a difference in the rushing attack on just the first day of spring ball. “A lot more downhill running,” he said when asked what was different about the new offense.

It’s what old-school Nebraska was built on, and Applewhite will bear the brunt of preparing the players expected to bring it back.

He’ll have no shortage of candidates as he looks to establish his top guys. There currently are 14 running backs – seven on scholarship – on the Husker roster, including three who signed before spring drills. Some among the group have lots of stars after their names. But that is nothing new, and yet Nebraska has not produced a 1,000-yard rusher since Devine Ozigbo in 2018.

Under Frost, much of the running burden has been placed on the quarterback position, which has consistently led the team in rushing yards. The feeling is that is about to change. Running backs are there for a reason. Time to let the horses out of the stable.

Applewhite is all in on saddling up. In both his seasons at TCU, the Horned Frogs ranked in the top 30 nationally in rushing.

“He’s energetic,” said sophomore running back Rahmir Johnson, who started seven games for the Huskers in 2021. “He’s going to get on you.”
Competition at running back will play out this spring and into the fall. By then, Applewhite will have a depth chart. The No. 1 thing he’ll be looking for?

“Toughness,” he said, adding that he likes guys who are ultracompetitive and multi-sport athletes.

Under Applewhite, some of his charges might even find some hidden talents.

“Part of my job is also bringing out those traits that they don’t have,” he said.

His job doesn’t end at developing talent. It also includes recruiting it, which he looks forward to at Nebraska.

He is expected to be key in the Huskers regaining a foothold in talent-rich Texas.

He says the Nebraska brand still holds sway in the Lonestar State despite the Huskers leaving the Big 12 more than a decade ago.

Applewhite said coaches down South have shared a common sentiment when he walks through their buildings wearing an NU hat: “Nebraska’s back.”

“People have not forgotten that this is the University of Nebraska,” Applewhite said. “This is the original RBU.”

And Applewhite is thrilled to be part of it.

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