Monday, November 19, 2012
Nebraska's 1,000-yard man Abdullah keeps on going
(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)
By ERIC OLSON
AP Sports Writer
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown likes to call Ameer Abdullah "Mighty Mouse."
The diminutive sophomore also could be called "The Man."
Abdullah, who ran the ball all of 42 times last season, reached 200 carries and crossed the 1,000-yard threshold for the season against Minnesota on Saturday.
The knee injury that has put All-Big Ten back Rex Burkhead on the sideline for most of his senior season necessitated Abdullah's heavier workload.
"Remember the old cartoon `Mighty Mouse?' That's him," Brown said after the 38-14 win over the Gophers. "He's Mighty Mouse, man. He's a muscled up little guy who has a big, giant heart and runs like a bear. He's a versatile guy and he has great mental toughness."
The 2012 offense was supposed to feature Burkhead, the fan favorite who is among only seven Nebraska backs to run for 3,000 yards in a career. Burkhead sprained his left knee in the opener and aggravated it twice after trying to come back.
Burkhead, limited to 47 carries this season, was suited up but didn't play against the Gophers. If his knee cooperates, he'll play some in the 17th-ranked Huskers' game at Iowa on Friday.
If he doesn't, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Abdullah will keep on going like that little cartoon mouse.
He's on pace to finish with 254 carries and 1,299 yards, assuming the Huskers go to the Big Ten championship game and have three games left. That would be 30 carries and 58 yards fewer than Burkhead had last year but more than any other Nebraska back the past 10 years.
Abdullah also has been the Huskers' primary punt returner, ranking second in the Big Ten at 13.9 yards a return. He also is second in all-purpose yards, at 151.3. He's sixth in rushing, at 92.6.
Abdullah said he's done more than even he expected this season, especially as a ball carrier. He's proved to be a tough inside runner in spite of his size, and he's just as good on the perimeter.
"Everybody wants to get 1,000," he said. "To do it as a partial backup means a lot to me. All credit for the O-line. That shows how hard they've been working. They've been challenged some games. The fullbacks as well. That's one position that goes unnoticed. I give all the credit to them. I'm just running behind them."
Abdullah ran 18 times for 79 yards against the Gophers on a day the starters played three quarters and Nebraska emphasized the passing game. Nebraska rushed for a season-low 133 yards, and the game marked just the second time this season that the Huskers didn't run for 200 yards.
Brown said he was glad to see Abdullah go over 1,000. The assistant coach said many people underestimate Abdullah's talent and toughness. Lots of fans have called for backups Braylon Heard and Imani Cross to get more work, but Abdullah has made it difficult for Brown to take him off the field.
"He ain't about just his stats," Brown said. "He'll do anything for you. He doesn't get that hyped up. But it's a milestone for a kid to be a second-string running back and to have Rex go down. For that kid to step in ..."
As Abdullah's role has increased, so has his willingness to become a team leader as the program prepares for Burkhead and 28 other seniors to leave.
Abdullah stood up and addressed the seniors and the rest of the team on Friday.
"It was tough for me, but something needed to be said," he said. "We really needed to express that the seniors since January have laid it on the line for us and it's time to return the favor this game."