2024 Nebraska RB Room: Good News/Bad News 

Husker Dan: Running backs need to lead the team in rushing
Nov 11, 2023; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska running back Emmett Johnson runs against the Maryland Terrapins during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium.
Nov 11, 2023; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska running back Emmett Johnson runs against the Maryland Terrapins during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. / Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
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The countdown to kickoff is now down to double digits.  In less than 100 days, the Huskers will open the season at home against UTEP.

Last week we looked at the Husker quarterback room, and today we'll take a look at this fall's running back room. 

First the good news.

In 2023, Nebraska finished fourth in the Big Ten in total rushing (2,122 yards) behind only Michigan, Penn State and Rutgers.  NU also finished 39th nationally in rushing yards.  

Three Husker running backs who started for NU last year are returning this fall.  Leading rusher Emmett Johnson will be back.  The other two are Gabe Ervin Jr. and Rahmir Johnson, both coming off season-ending injuries.

More good news.

The running back room looked so good in the offseason that Matt Rhule signed only one scholarship RB.  He is Oregon transfer Dante Dowdell. If Rhule has that much confidence in his RB room, there shouldn't be any bad news to report, right?

Not so fast, as Lee Corso would say.

Now for the bad news.

Question:  Do you know who last year's leading rusher was for Nebraska?  Hint:  It wasn't a running back.

The answer is Heinrich Haarberg - a quarterback.  Yup.  So why is that bad news?

Because during the eight  games he started, Haarberg got so banged up he couldn't finish the season.  Anyone remember former Husker QB Adrian Martinez?  

History has shown when Husker QBs have been the team's leading rusher, the Huskers have had a losing record.  Conversely, when a RB has been the team's leading rusher, NU has had a winning record. 

Last year's 5-7 record saw Husker QBs outrush the RB room, 846 yards and 7 TDs to 654 yards and 4 TDs.  That's right.  Husker QBs outrushed Husker runners.

Here are the 2023 stats.







Jeff Sims: 189  (1)



Chubba Purdy: 180    (1)



Total:    846      (7 TDs)



Running Backs




Emmett Johnson



5-11, 190

Gabe Ervin Jr. 



6-0, 220

Kwinten Ives



6-2, 185

Janiran Bonner



6-2, 220

Rahmir Johnson



5-10, 185

Maurice Mezzccua



5-8, 175




Calling Capt. Obvious:  If the Huskers hope to have a winning season this fall, the running back position must be able to consistently run the ball and lead the team in rushing.

The only RB Rhule added to the roster is Dante Dowdell (6-2, 215) who transferred from Oregon.  His playing time there was limited because of the Duck depth chart.  His 2023 numbers are:  90 yards rushing and one TD.

Will Dowdell be able to put a much needed spark into the Husker running game?

Here are my takes on the Husker running back room.

Pecking order:  1.)  Emmett Johnson 2.)  Rahmir Johnson 3.)  Gabe Ervin and 4.)  Dante Dowdell.  If he's healthy, Emmett Johnson looks to be the starter.  It remains to be seen if Ervin and R. Johnson can come back at or near 100% and if they do, can they remain healthy enough to stay in the lineup all season?  Dowdell showed a lot of promise in the Husker spring game.  He's a big, fast back and should do well in the Big Ten.

What will determine how good NU's running game will be the development of the Husker offensive line.  (Another Capt. Obvious moment)

Matt Rhule's plan to use his fullbacks in his offense wasn't much of a factor last season.  FBs Landon Ternus (6-0, 230), Barret Liebentritt (6-0, 235) and Trevor Ruth (6-0, 235) may see action this fall.

We Are the Champions!

What an exciting Big Ten Tournament this past week.  Congratulations to Will Bolt's Husker baseball team for going 5-0 in elimination games to win the tournament crown at the Chuck in Omaha.  Just when you thought the Huskers were going to have a quick exit after getting hammered in the tourney opener by Ohio State 15-2, Nebraska went on to win it all by beating 8th seeded Penn State 2-1.  What a marvelous accomplishment.  Since joining the B1G, this is the Huskers' first conference tournament championship.  Congratulations, Huskers.  And how 'bout them Husker fans?  Over 13,000 came the 10:00 a.m. championship game.  

More  great news:  The B1G has finalized a deal with MECA that will keep the conference tourney in Omaha through 2027.

How 'Bout Them Huskers

Will and I discuss the game change for the Huskers' home game with Illinois..  Of course we show our love for the Husker baseball team and we look at this fall's Husker RB room. 

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Dan McGlynn


Dan “Husker Dan” McGlynn has been writing about Husker football since 2003. His columns have appeared on HuskerMax.com as well as in several local newspapers and magazines. He has a B.A. in English from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Dan is a native Nebraskan and lives in Omaha. You may contact him at HuskerDan@cox.net.