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Battered, battering Burkhead deflates Iowa hopes

[ 2 ] November 25, 2011 |

Lincoln, Neb. — Iowa’s defense figured out how to stop Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead on his 38th carry of the game Friday.

It was the other 37 that caused the problem.

Nebraska’s bruising running back started the week with his foot in a boot, sitting out Monday’s practice.

Nebraska Rex Burkhead jumps up and over Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Tyler Miller as he rushes for yards in the second half of play at Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2011. (David Purdy/The Des Moines Register)

Burkhead finished the week with a school record for carries in a game for a program that built its reputation with a run-first, ask-questions-later blueprint.

Keeping Burkhead off the field posed as tough a challenge as tackling him.

“When you ask Rex, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me,’ ” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “He was mad that we didn’t let him practice on Monday. That’s just who he is.

“He’s a special guy.”

Nebraska planned to use Burkhead early and often against an Iowa defensive front that has been inconsistent this season.

Game stats, scoring summary and replay of live chat

The workload grew, though, when quarterback Taylor Martinez tweaked his left ankle on an option play in the first quarter.

Goodbye, option plays. Hello, handoffs — to No. 22.

“I’m a little sore,” said Burkhead, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior, of the increased duty that led to 160 yards and his 11th 100-yard game as a Cornhusker. “That was the gameplan for today — pound the rock.”

Burkhead was parked on the sidelines as the game had been decided, until coaches asked him to return in the final minute for the 38th and record-setting carry.

The coaches needed offensive linemen — including 6-7, 315-pound Marcel Jones — to convince him to return. Burkhead was stopped for a loss of 3 yards on the play, for his only negative yardage.

“He’s a good running back. We knew that coming in,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said. “… (but) he hurt us a little more than we were anticipating.”

Iowa counterpart Marcus Coker actually averaged more per carry than Burkhead — 4.8 yards to 4.2 — meaning Coker would have been on 180-yards-plus pace with that many attempts.

Burkhead kept Nebraska’s offense on the field at key times — and Iowa’s defense away from the sideline, as well — over and over, again.

“That guy’s a warrior,” Cornhuskers safety Austin Cassidy said. “Their defense knows (he’s going to get the ball) and he still gets it done.”

When the game ended, Burkhead had eclipsed the 37-carry record of Cory Ross in the 2003 Alamo Bowl against Michigan State — and made a bruising, black-and-blue statement in the first Big Ten game between the programs.

“He epitomizes what this team is,” Pelini said. “… Warriors.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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