LINCOLN, Neb. — Rex Burkhead’s last carry was his only carry for a loss for Nebraska on Friday. It also was the only time the junior running back didn’t want the ball.
Burkhead sheepishly re-entered the game on the Cornhuskers’ final possession only because of a team record. On second down, he took the handoff and fell to a knee for a 3-yard loss. He didn’t want to touch the ball, but like he had the entire game, he sucked it up for his teammates.
That 3-yard loss gave him 38 carries, a single-game record for Nebraska.
“I didn’t want to have to do that in that fashion, really,” Burkhead said. “I thought it was not a good way to get it, taking it and taking a knee. But after the first play, (tackle) Marcel (Jones) and the rest of the linemen came up to me and told me they wanted me to do it for them, just because they’ve been a part of it and they were seniors and stuff. So I was like, ‘All right, I’ll do it for you guys.’”
Burkhead’s last rush was for ceremony. His previous 37 were a lesson in perseverance. Burkhead barely practiced this week to make it through to Friday’s game. But he came up huge time and time again in Nebraska’s 20-7 win.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez suffered a first-quarter ankle injury that prevented him from running the ball. Burkhead was then told it was his game, and he took advantage of the opportunity.
On Nebraska’s first touchdown drive, Burkhead carried the ball nine of Nebraska’s 15 plays for 35 yards. On Nebraska’s final touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Burkhead carried eight of Nebraska’s 10 plays for 39 yards and a 2-yard score.
Only twice before his final carry did he fail to gain yardage.
“Any time you get 38 carries or whatever it was, you’ve got to be a tough kid,” Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “He’s a tough kid.”
Burkhead also earned the respect of his defensive teammates. Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David congratulated Burkhead with a hug along the sidelines.
“I’m proud of him, man,” David said. “He’s been working hard since day one. I know I’m an older guy, but I kind of look up to Rex. … I’ve never seen a guy work as hard as he does. I have to go against him like every day in practice and he’s a challenge.”
Safety Austin Cassidy called Burkhead “a warrior.”
“I know you guys don’t need me to tell you that,” Cassidy said. “When we need something to happen on offense, the way I see it is that we’re giving the ball to Rex.”
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