Rex Burkhead - Mr. Reliable? Mr. Dependable? Mr. Everything?
Before the season started, Nebraska's coaches made it clear there was a focus on ball security. There's good reason for that. Nebraska finished 2010 117th nationally in fumbles lost, and tied for 81st in turnover margin. Unfortunately, things haven't changed as through five games in 2011, Nebraska still has a turnover problem, currently ranked 82nd in turnover margin, 59th in fumbles lost, and 78th in interceptions.
Here's Nebraska, struggling with turnovers, and struggling with consistency in the offense while at the same time the most underutilized weapon in the offensive arsenal is also the steadiest player on the team.
That would be Rex Burkhead (JR RB).
Burkhead doesn't fumble - he hasn't fumbled yet this season despite having carried the ball 81 times, caught three passes, thrown a pass and fielded a punt. That's 85 touches without a fumble. According to OWH reporter Jon Nyatawa, Burkhead has only fumbled four times in his career, four times in 376 career touches. Maybe his nickname should be "Mr Reliable". (Pretty boring I admit, but at this point wouldn't you take that over being called "Mr Adventure", otherwise known as Niles Paul?).
Burkhead's 81 rushes are second on the team - Taylor Martinez has 83. The next closest player is Braylon Heard with 17.
25 of Burkhead's carries have come in the fourth quarter. 25 of them have happened when Nebraska was leading by more than eight points. Both of these are signs that he's been used to put games away.
It's nearly common knowledge that Nebraska's is struggling most in clear passing situations, also known as "third and long". Obviously the key to success would be for Nebraska to stay out of "third and long". Burkhead has been an answer for that, with 49 carries for a 6.33-yard per carry average on first down.
One more interesting item about Burkhead's rushing statistics - they've increased as the game goes on. In the first quarter, he's had 16 carries. In the second, 19. The third, 21, and in the fourth, the aforementioned 25. Again, more evidence that Burkhead has been used more as a guy to put opponents away rather than pound them into the mat to begin with.
That strategy (assuming there is one) was never clearer than last week against Wisconsin when Burkhead had six carries for 18 yards in the first half.
Question is - what to do with Burkhead this week against Ohio State?
Burkhead isn't exactly known for his speed (although he has had four 20+ yard runs and 14 10+ yard runs), and the Buckeye defense is strong against the run, so pounding him repeatedly on the ground into the middle of the Buckeye defense would appear to be counter-productive.
On the other hand, the Buckeye offense is in disarray and should not be capable of scoring a lot of points against Nebraska's defense. As I stated earlier today, the only way Ohio State wins this game is if it gives it away. It would seem that Burkhead would be the best weapon against that possibility.
One last stat about him - throughout his 81 carries this season, he's gained 521 yards, losing only five.