Pelini says Rex Burkhead merits more recognition
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)
Burkhead has run for 100 yards in four of the last five games and has been the 13th-ranked Cornhuskers' most consistent offensive threat. A big performance against No. 9 Michigan State's vaunted defense Saturday probably would earn Burkhead the recognition Pelini says is long overdue.
''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.''
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Burkhead has put up numbers comparable to both, and he hasn't gone unnoticed by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.
''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.''
The junior from Plano, Texas, has run for 10 touchdowns and is averaging 107.4 yards a game and 5.8 a carry. What separates him from a lot of backs is that he gets stronger as games go along.
He had 109 of his 119 yards against Ohio State in the second half, when the Huskers overcame a 21-point deficit in a 34-27 victory in the biggest comeback in program history. He also helped kill the clock in wins over Fresno State and Washington.
''He's done a great job just leading our offense,'' quarterback Taylor Martinez said. ''We know we can just put the ball in his hands anytime and he'll pick up a first down for us.''
Burkhead is at his best in the fourth quarter, when he averages 6.8 yards a carry.
He has gained 252 of his 752 yards (34 percent) in the last 15 minutes of games - and that's despite not playing in the fourth quarter of blowouts against Chattanooga and Minnesota.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Burkhead combines superb conditioning with intangibles.
''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.''
Nebraska's up-tempo offense also helps Burkhead pile up yards in the fourth quarter against what Burkhead called ''gassed'' defenses.
''I think we finish well,'' he said. ''I think it's a very valuable asset we have as an offensive unit.''
Burkhead probably will be counted on early and late against a Michigan State defense that allows just 88.9 yards on the ground to rank eighth nationally.
The Spartans have two of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten in William Gholston, who's coming back from suspension, and Marcus Rush, who's averaging almost four tackles a game. Tackle Jerel Worthy is a candidate for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy.
''I would say that is the strongest point of their defense,'' Burkhead said. ''I would say all-around, they are very solid. Up front, we'll definitely have to get after them. They've got some playmakers there and they shed blockers off very quickly and get to the ball very quickly.''
The game between the Huskers (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) and Spartans (6-1, 3-0) could be a key in deciding the conference's Legends Division winner.
Burkhead said he isn't looking at it as an opportunity to build name recognition, though he adds he appreciates Pelini's comments about his meriting more accolades.
''That's a great compliment from him. I'll take it,'' Burkhead said. ''But 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.''