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Wilbon to start for injured Tre Bryant at running back

September 16, 2017 GMT

LINCOLN — In a turn of events since Tuesday, Nebraska is expected to be without its top rusher when it meets Northern Illinois.

Sophomore Tre Bryant — who topped the 100-yard plateau in each of his first two games and is second in the Big Ten with 299 rushing yards — didn’t practice all week with a knee injury and won’t start Saturday, coach Mike Riley said after Thursday’s workout inside Memorial Stadium.

Running backs coach Reggie Davis declared Tuesday that Bryant was “good to go.” Instead, Riley said, junior Mikale Wilbon will make his first career start while Devine Ozigbo moves up to No. 2 on the depth chart.

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The junior Ozigbo has yet to appear in a game this year after carrying 97 times last season — third most on the team — for 412 yards (4.2 average).

“I was kind of hoping to wait as long as I could, but it’s probably too late,” Riley said of Bryant. “So he probably won’t play.”

Wilbon is tied with wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El as Nebraska’s second-leading rusher at 23 total yards. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Chicago native played almost the entire fourth quarter at Oregon last weekend after Bryant went down, turning three carries into 8 yards and adding a 4-yard catch. He ran twice for 15 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Arkansas State.

Riley said the Husker offense remains steady no matter who lines up in the backfield.

“We don’t have to change too much with any of the backs,” Riley said. “They’re all pretty much all-purpose, they all have good hands, they’re all knowledgeable about what we do. They’re all experienced — Devine and Mikale a little more so. But they’re all versatile enough to play all the time. And so’s Jaylin (Bradley), actually.”

Riley reiterated that Bradley, a true freshman from Bellevue West, will play his first collegiate game this weekend despite an illness before Thursday’s practice. The coach said he thinks it’s the same sickness that went through much of the Nebraska women’s soccer team and forced it to postpone Friday’s match with Iowa.

“Jaylin’s going to play, but this was a real good practice for him today,” Riley said. “And he was not here. It would have been great for him. Special teams stuff.”

Other injury news:

» Along with Bradley, Riley named freshman offensive linemen Matt Sichterman and Brenden Jaimes as others stricken by the illness. There was at least one other player affected Riley couldn’t recall.

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» Regular starting safety Joshua Kalu (hamstring) and right tackle David Knevel (ankle) won’t play this weekend, Riley said. Junior Antonio Reed will man Kalu’s safety spot while redshirt freshman Matt Farniok will start on the line for a second straight week.

“I thought he actually played a good game, Matt Farniok did,” Riley said. “So I’m looking forward to more growth from him.”

» Starting safeties Reed (thumb) and Aaron Williams (shoulder) practiced in green no-contact jerseys but are expected to go Saturday.

“We’re pretty darn thin in the secondary,” Riley said. “Yes, they’re OK, we expect them to play. They both had injuries that made us make a decision to not want them to get hit during practice.”

Riley said backups at those spots are sophomores Reid Karel and Jeremiah Stovall.

» Sophomore Wyatt Mazour remains out after a quad injury during fall camp, Riley said.

» Pierson-El (shoulder) appears to be fully healthy if Thursday’s workout was any indication.

“De’Mornay looked the best that he’s looked in a while today,” Riley said. “Fast and comfortable. He looked good. His foot was bothering him early in the week, his shoulder was bothering him. But today he looked good. He looked fast.”

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