The Nebraska Cornhuskers are a traditional team running a very untraditional offense.
For the purists out there who like to see their quarterback take the snap, drop back, survey the field and then deliver a timely pass – Taylor Martinez’s different way of playing the position is liable to cause a stroke. Not because he’s ineffective in what he does, because he’s proven time and time again that he can be very effective, but rather because it’s so unorthodox looking when he does it.
That sentiment doesn’t extend to the entire offensive scheme, though. There is one thing about Nebraska’s offensive attack that is very, very traditional – old school Big Ten-ish even, if you will.
Rex Burkhead and the Huskers run game is about as vintage hard-nosed football as you’ll ever come across in the college ranks. It’s all built on effort, grit and undeniable will to move the pile and get through the seams at any cost.
Everyone knows that head coach Bo Pelini is a tough cookie to crack, but even he can’t help but gush over his talented running back.
“I think he’s gone a little under the radar,” Pelini said. “He might not be the flashiest guy in the world. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and how he plays the game.”
To say that Burkhead is “a little under the radar” is putting it mildly. It’s almost criminal that the team’s leading rusher, who has broken the 100-yard plateau in four of his last five efforts, and has consistently put up 5.7 yards per carry gets this little attention.
And did I mention that the kid is clutch, by the way? His already impressive yards per carry total jumps to 6.8 yards per carry in the fourth quarter.
Not that he needs the excess attention. Burkhead is fine just playing his role, doing his thing and being the consummate teammate.
“My main focus is on the team right now and how far we can come along this year and being able to play in that Big Ten championship hopefully,” he told reporters this week.
Well, Burkhead’s 10-touchdown, 735-yard year may not be stealing too much of the national spotlight, but it’s definitely gotten the attention of Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who will look to sic his defense on the 5-foot-11 pit bull.
“I wouldn’t say (he’s) undervalued, from where I’m sitting right now. That’s for sure,” Dantonio said. “I would say he’s an extremely tough, tough running back. He plays with great effort, catches the ball, runs the ball, breaks tackles, runs through the smoke. He runs through tackles. You’ve got to get him down.”
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck knows he has a stud in Burkhead. A stud that has consistently lived up to the billing as the most reliable and potent offensive weapon the team.
“His want-to, his intestinal fortitude,” Beck said. “He has an incredible drive to succeed. We ride that horse, no question about it. He’s a fierce competitor.”
It won’t be easy for Burkhead against a Spartans defense that’s ranked 2nd in total defense, and 8th in rushing defense. On the year, they hold opponents to just a tick under 89 yards per game. But the talented Husker is used to having to fight for every yard, to earning every little bit of everything that he gets.
Burkhead’s showing on Saturday will serve as an excellent measuring stick for how well the Huskers perform. If he ends up coming out hot and having a big game, Nebraska could very easily shock their opponents. And if he doesn’t – the team will no doubt collapse accordingly.
How will things shake up?
The game kicks off at 12:00 p.m., Saturday.