Thursday, December 2, 2010
Burkhead gives Huskers QB play a boost
By David Ubben
Nebraska's game Saturday will begin the same way its season did: with everyone in attendance waiting to see who trots out to quarterback the offense on the opening series.
Taylor Martinez broke a 46-yard run in that game on his first career carry, and ran his way into the midseason Heisman conversation before being slowed by injuries and better defenses. A gimpy right ankle and nagging turf toe on his left foot kept him out of last week's North-clinching win over Colorado, and could slow him on Saturday.
Rex Burkhead rushed for 101 yards last week against Colorado, but also threw two touchdown passes.
Martinez was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, but left the field with his left foot in a protective boot.
Zac Lee and, most recently, Cody Green, have filled in for Martinez. Green has yet to top 100 yards passing in a game this year, but made his best start of the season with plenty on the line against the Buffaloes, completing 10 of 13 passes for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Martinez torched Oklahoma State for 323 yards in a 51-41 win earlier this year, but since then he Martinez topped out at 167 yards passing against Kansas -- one of just two teams in the Big 12 giving up over six yards per play on defense.
In short, as conference play has progressed, the Huskers quarterbacks have been uninspiring through the air. Nebraska's offensive line and the Huskers third "quarterback" might make that deficiency irrelevant.
"He has an impact on the game in a lot of different ways," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini of running back/part-time quarterback Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead saw plenty of snaps out of Nebraska's Wildcat package against Colorado, and finished with 101 yards rushing and a touchdown. Defenses are forced to respect the high school quarterback's arm, too.
Burkhead threw his first two passes of the season against the Buffaloes. Both went for touchdowns, including a 26-yard rainbow down the right sideline to Brandon Kinnie.
"Nothing he does surprises me," Pelini said. "He does so many things to make a football team better."
Most of the time, that's playing a role as a traditional running back alongside Roy Helu Jr.
"Everyone focuses on the Wildcat, but he runs the ball hard, he's efficient, he can run inside or outside," Pelini said. "He's just a tremendous football player who's continuing to develop and get better."
Running the ball got Nebraska into the Big 12 title game; with 178 yards, Burkhead could become the Huskers third 1,000-yard rusher this season. If it beats Oklahoma for the Big 12 title game, it'll probably be because of that run game.
But if Burkhead has to take snaps in lieu of ineffectiveness from Green or Martinez, it should make running the ball significantly easier.
"They’re physical. It’s going to be a real physical game. They like to run the ball," Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal said, "and we’ll have to stop the run to win the game."