Happy Ending?

Huskers face fitting Big 12 finale against Sooners

Cody Green has heard it before. All quarterbacks hear it. “I’m open. Throw me the ball.” In this case, however, he’s the one making the request. “He’s always harping on me in practice to throw it to him,” Rex Burkhead says with a smile. “I don’t know; I haven’t got the whole trust factor with him yet.” Burkhead was addressing reporters following Nebraska’s 45-17 victory against Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving. With the victory, the Huskers earned a return trip to Saturday night’s Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. And yes, playing the Sooners is a fitting way to finish membership in the Big 12. So anyway, Burkhead had thrown two passes against Colorado, both complete and both for touchdowns. The sophomore from Plano, Texas, is a running back. But when he lines up in the Wildcat formation, he becomes a quarterback of sorts, taking the shotgun snap and either handing off or faking a handoff, keeping the ball and running. The first time in the Wildcat against Colorado, he kept for 13 yards. Before the day was done, he had carried 18 more times (not all in the Wildcat) for 101 yards and a touchdown. By now, Nebraska fans know Burkhead can run with the ball. He’s the team’s third-leading rusher, behind running back Roy Helu, Jr. and quarterback Taylor Martinez. What they might not have known until the Colorado game, however, is that Burkhead also is a threat to pass the ball. Actually, considering how knowledgeable Husker fans are, Burkhead’s passing prowess might not have been a surprise to some. After all, he played a little quarterback in high school. Plus, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson says he could throw out of the Wildcat, and throw well. “All week long in practice, I’d kind of sit back and laugh to myself because he’s got great touch,” Watson says. “He’s just got a real feel for football. “Whatever you ask him to do he just goes all in and goes to work.” Burkhead was asked to prepare to pass if need be against Colorado as the Huskers turned to the Wildcat to help compensate for the absence of Martinez, who was sidelined by injury — turf toe and a high-ankle sprain. Green, of course, stepped in for Martinez. “We’re not a one-dimensional Wildcat offense,” says Watson. Given Burkhead’s versatility “there’s no telling how far we can go with it. We’ll just keep scratching away and being creative and putting him and others in the position to create little plays that, I think, can really catch defenses off-guard.” The plays Burkhead produced from the Wildcat weren’t exactly “little.” His first touchdown pass covered 26 yards to wide receiver Brandon Kinnie, and his second, though covering only 4 yards to tight end Kyler Reed, showed what Watson called his “great (football) instincts.” The play was designed to be a pass to Ben Cotton, the other tight end. But Cotton was covered, so Burkhead ad-libbed and “just made a heck of a play,” coach Bo Pelini says. Burkhead began by running to his right, but when he saw Cotton had been “taken away” by the defense, he ran back to his left and lobbed the ball to an open Reed. “I was thinking about tucking and running,” says Burkhead. “But the run really didn’t look like it was going to be there, so I just decided to reverse field and, I guess, try to make a play out of it.” Green also had two touchdown passes, among 10 completions in 13 attempts without an interception. But quarterbacks throw touchdown passes; running backs don’t. “Those two (Burkhead) touchdown passes, I kind of had to look at him: ‘Hey, slow down a little bit. I’m the one that’s supposed to be throwing (them),’” Green says. “But we practice that every week, and finally we got to do it during the game. And it worked.” The Wildcat can create substitution problems for the defense because the quarterback remains in the game, splitting out as a receiver. But that’s not apparent until the team breaks the huddle. So Green lined up at wideout at times during the Colorado game. At some point, he might even have a chance to catch a pass. “Hopefully, in the future there is,” says Green. “I kind of always nudge Rex whenever he goes out there: ‘Hey, come on now, look out there.’ But we’ll see. “I’m always open, always, no matter what.”

posted at 09:38 pm
on Wednesday, December 01st, 2010


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