Rex Burkhead: Necessary to the Nebraska Cornhuskers' Offense?

By Phil Clark

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are currently one win away from claiming the Big Ten Legends division and earning a spot in the conference championship game. They face the Iowa Hawkeyes this weekend in a “win and you’re in” situation. One part of the Cornhuskers’ very successful offense this year has to be how their three pronged running attack turned into a two-man show and it didn’t slow things down.

Cornhuskers running back Rex Burkhead has had injury issues on and off this season and is currently a game-time decision for this weekend. He has missed five of the Cornhuskers’ eleven games, but the Cornhuskers have gone 4-1 in those games. Also, there hasn’t been any indications of any kind that the offense is suffering without Burkhead in the backfield.

Several of these games have been very close ones as the Cornhuskers’ loss to the UCLA Bruins and wins against the Michigan St. Spartans and Penn St. Nittany Lions were all decided by single digits. Not to mention the win against the Nittany Lions having a somewhat infamous bad call as the Nittany Lions were attempting to take the lead late in the game and instead ended up losing a touchdown and any chance of winning the game.

But Burkhead’s absence did create a need for the other two men responsible for powering the Cornhuskers’ running attack, quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Ameer Abdullah, to step up their game, and step it up they have. Abdullah just passed the 1,000 yard mark this past weekend and it came in an off game that saw Abdullah’s streak of 100+ yard rushing games end at four in a row. He also helped the Cornhuskers’ offense pick up where they left off when Burkhead missed two games early into the season, rushing for two touchdowns in both Of course the main reason Abdullah’s streak ended this past Saturday was because Martinez was completing a 300-yard passing game that day. That follows a very productive day against the Nittany Lions and a 200-yard rushing game against the Spartans.

The dominant win over the Michigan Wolverines in late-October also came without Burkhead on the field, and that win is especially noteworthy because it was the win that has made it so that the Cornhuskers are in control of their own destiny this weekend.

It’s not like the Cornhuskers couldn’t use Burkhead in the backfield. Many of their conference games have been close and have had required some kind of heroics or a comeback. How much longer can the Cornhuskers live this way against good competition? It’s a tough question to answer as the game they face directly in front of them this weekend shouldn’t be a tough one, but a rematch with the Wisconsin Badgers and bowl game against either the Pac 12 champ or an SEC opponent (depending on what Big Ten title game is created and how it goes) will be. Thus the question of Burkhead’s worth to this offense is one that coach Bo Pelini will need to look at if Burkhead is healthy enough to play.

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