Backing Up Burkhead
After an off season and preseason filled with big expectations and a hashtag Heisman campaign (#factsaboutrex), few fans could have ever expected or predicted that Rex Burkhead would get injured on just his third carry of the year. Even Superman can sprain his knee, I guess. While coaches are downplaying the injury and its said to be the lowest grade of sprain, the timetable for Burkhead's return is unknown. So, the NU backfield goes from one great constant to a long - and exciting - list of variables and unknowns.
Many players took carries against Southern Miss on Saturday, each of them bring their own qualities to the table. Ameer Abdullah is now the lead dog. He's as fast and elusive as fans remember from his freshman campaign. He's a more physical runner than a year ago, and remains a very good receiver. Mike Marrow demonstrated his power in four carries from the fullback spot. Braylon Heard showed good explosiveness on his 20-yard romp down the sideline and on his 10-yard touchdown.
Saturday also marked the debut of phenom Imani Cross. The freshman showed his stuff in mostly mop up duty, but he appears to be as advertised. Keep in mind, freshman typically struggle in pass protection. So, when Cross is in there, he's probably getting the ball.
None are the complete player Burkhead is. Who is? But collectively it is an impressive and talented group. They should be able to carry the mail against the UCLA Bruins on Saturday.
That brings the key question to mind - what do Husker coaches do with Burkhead this week? The reports this morning are that it is a low grade sprain. In theory, he could be available for the UCLA game. Does he play if he's not 100%?
Nebraska has enough talent in the backfield (and, frankly, up front) to run the ball against the Bruins without Burkhead. If the Huskers can handle UCLA, then their next two opponents - Arkansas State and Idaho State - are weak enough that he would not need to put in a lot of work, either.
Resting a sprained knee for three weeks makes it much more likely that Burkhead would be 100% healthy in October when the Huskers' rugged Big Ten slate starts. That is when the Huskers need to have their best player ready.
Limited action before October would cost Burkhead any real shot at the Heisman. But, he's never said that is his goal. He has said that a conference title is his goal and the team's goal. Burkhead is the unselfish and unquestioned leader of this Husker team. If his getting healthy puts them closer to the goal, he'll do it. He can make a sacrifice on and off the field. That's a "fact about Rex" you can take to the bank.