Andy Janovich didn’t have much time to make an impression at Nebraska.
He’d been used sparingly in any role during previous offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s tenure under Bo Pelini. Thanks to essentially one year in Mike Rilley’s offense, the former Husker fullback now finds himself a member of the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The future of the fullback for the Big Red isn’t just the bruising back of the past, but the necessity to be a Swiss army knife and the perfect man for the job is up to bat.
Luke McNitt looks like the presumptive guy to take over for Janovich and for good reason. The latter looked like an absolute specimen of a football player, ran like a buffalo and flat out delivered pain. It’s too soon to see if McNitt can do all of that, but he passes the eyeball test. If you suggested that he was Janovich’s cousin and the average fan didn’t bolt to Wikipedia, they’d probably believe you if looks were any indication.
What makes McNitt so special is that he has the capability to do it all. A former tight end, he can run, catch, block, tackle, the whole nine yards (maybe more with a little help downfield). A Nebraska fullback now has to be able to be a multiple option threat out of the backfield and while that puts a lot of pressure on them to perform in a number of different ways, it can really mess with a defensive coordinator’s plans.
Janovich worked expertly as a battering ram when the Huskers needed three to five yards for a first down. Being closer to the line of scrimmage, his footwork and surprising quickness afforded him the opportunity to break away for big gains. He was Nebraska’s fourth-best rusher, tallying 265 yards and three touchdowns with an average of 6.3 yards picked up per carry on 42 attempts.
He caught two passes for 58 yards, but with McNitt’s experience as a tight end, it’s likely Nebraska utilizes him as another check down option for quarterback Tommy Armstrong, especially in short yardage situations when a defense expects him to run up the gut.
A Nebraska fullback naturally needs to be a solid run blocker and Janovich was most certainly that in 2015, opening multiple lanes to spring backs for long gains if not touchdowns. Nebraska found a very successful blocker in their fullback as he managed to reach both the first and second levels of the opponent’s defense. He also found himself being a very important cog on special teams as he locked down return lanes to the point of forcing fair catches and wrapped up ball carriers.
What have we learned?
Riley’s fullbacks are a new breed for Nebraska football, but a dangerous component. Husker fans haven’t seen this much attention paid to the position since 1997, a national championship team which featured fullback Joel Makovicka. He was the third-best rusher on the team with 685 yards and nine touchdowns on a squad that heavily employed the option of old.
If McNitt is the starter, while he may be no Janovich right off the back (the kid’s a only a junior, after all), he has the potential to develop into a major factor in Nebraska victories. The Huskers feature a quality backfield and thanks to him, it could look very, very good.
Don’t take my word for it. The proof will be in the pudding a guy like McNitt can turn players into.