Brace (barely) slows Burkhead in solid return

2012-09-22T23:10:00Z 2012-10-18T18:11:18Z Brace (barely) slows Burkhead in solid returnBy BRIAN ROSENTHAL / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Each guy in the front row of the student section had a painted letter on his chest. Lined together, they spelled out S-E-X-Y R-E-X-Y.

Welcome back, Rex Burkhead.

The Nebraska senior running back, who missed the Huskers’ last two games, looked mostly recovered from the sprained MCL he suffered in the first half of the Sept. 1 victory against Southern Miss.

Mostly, but not completely.

“I don’t think he was totally himself,” Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said. “I don’t think he was totally 100 percent. But he was pretty close to it.”

Even a Burkhead at 90 percent — that was his estimation — was more than enough against an overmatched Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

“It felt good to get back out there in a game atmosphere, being out on the field with my teammates,” said Burkhead, who ran eight times for 119 yards and two touchdowns in Nebraska’s 73-7 victory against Idaho State.

“It was fun, just running around, getting more comfortable with the knee. You kind of get comfortable in practice and stuff, but it’s never the same in a game, getting tackled and all that.”

The biggest problem, Burkhead said, was the brace he wore to protect his knee. It limited his mobility and ability to accelerate.

“The brace is a little restricting,” Burkhead said. “I can’t wait to get it off. Hopefully, that’s next week. You just have to deal with it. It’s there for a good cause, a good purpose.”

It didn’t slow him much, though.

Burkhead followed several lead blockers, including wide receiver Kenny Bell, downfield en route to his career-long 61-yard run, a touchdown that started Nebraska’s 35-point avalanche in the first quarter.

“I had some pullers coming around, had some great blocks right at the beginning,” Burkhead said. “Kenny Bell was downfield, and I was just trying to set up the guy he was going against.”

Burkhead later scored on a 2-yard run, a touchdown set up after Will Compton’s fumble recovery. Burkhead also rambled 25 yards after catching a swing pass from Taylor Martinez in the flat.

That’s a total of nine touches Saturday for Burkhead, a tad fewer than coaches had planned. They wanted 10 or 15.

“As much as anything for running backs, they need some repetitions, they need to get the rust off a little bit,” Brown said. “It’s a combination of being able to test that knee and see it go through some difficult situations and get the rust out of your game.”

Brown thought Burkhead ran “well and confidently,” a good ending to a week with a rough beginning.

“He started off slow in practice early in the week,” Brown said, “and then he got significantly stronger between Tuesday and Wednesday. You could really see that he had a chance. He kept making progress as time went on.”

Brown hopes to see similar progress this coming week, as Nebraska prepares for its Big Ten opener against Wisconsin.

“He’ll make a lot of progress during the week,” Brown said, “provided he came out of it without too much swelling today.”

Burkhead sat the second half, when Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross had the brunt of Nebraska’s carries. Cross, a true freshman, finished with 100 yards, his first 100-yard rushing game.

What do teammates think of Burkhead’s return?

“I’m just excited he’s healthy,” Bell said. “As far as having him back out there, yeah, it’s a great feeling, but he’s one of my best friends. I care about his health most.”

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 402-473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBR.

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