Filling the Void

Bo Pelini announced on Tuesday that Rex Burkhead would miss an extended period of time with a foot injury. Just a true freshman, Burkhead has played a major role for the Huskers on both Offense and special teams. With Burkhead out, the competition for playing time has begun.

The moment Rex Burkhead went down to a foot injury on Monday, a huge hole was left in the Nebraska offense. The freshman had carried the ball 23 times for 118 yards and had eight catches for 83 yards this season.

Burkhead had made an immediate impact with the team, and his teammates are disappointed about the news.

"Rex was my partner in crime back there on kickoff and punt return," said WR Niles Paul. It's a little frustrating for me and I know he's frustrated."

Now, with Burkhead out, someone has to take some additional carries to help compliment Roy Helu. After Helu, the running back with the most carries is Austin Jones, who has rushed the ball three times for 11 yards.

"It's college football," Paul said. "I'm pretty sure the coaches are going to find somebody else who can step in and try it take Rex's position." So who will fill Rex's void and receives some carries for the remainder of the season? Running back coach Tim Beck has a list to choose from. His choices are Redshirt Freshman Collins Okafor, Redshirt Freshman Lester Ward, Sophomore Austin Jones, Sophomore Marcus Mendoza and true Freshman Dontrayevous Robinson, who is currently being redshirted.

Beck gathered his running backs before practice on Tuesday and told them it was an open competition, and Rex's spot is open for anyone to take. With this being said, the running back candidates know what opportunity they have.

"It's football, things happen, and you got to learn to pick up and keep moving forward," said Lester Ward. Rex's vacancy will create intense competition between five potential candidates looking for an opportunity to play. "We all know we got to step it up," said Marcus Mendoza. So far this season, those five running backs have a combined six carries. With Rex's spot wide open, Coach Beck said it is anyone's spot to win.

"We got to start from scratch, and whoever earns it is going to be the guy that will get the opportunity," Beck said. So let's look at each option.

Redshirt freshman Collins Okafor has had a troubled season so far. Just two games into the season, Okafor left the team for a few days and contemplated transferring. After his fellow running backs reached out to him, and Okafor thought about his decision, he returned to the team. After not traveling to Blacksburg, Okafor received his first bit of playing time when he ran the ball for the first time. Okafor is an athletic guy, who has the big play potential, much like Burkhead.

Another option for Beck is another redshirt freshman, Lester Ward. Ward's playing experience includes one carry for eight yards, but Ward impressed coaches during the offseason, and at one point, Coach Beck claimed that Ward was the third string running back. At 6'3 and 215 lbs, Ward offers a power running threat that makes him a weapon.

One of the most intriguing options for the Huskers is sophomore Austin Jones. Jones made the team during open student tryouts held two years ago, and played well enough in the offseason to make himself a candidate for playing time. The sophomore will definitely get some serious consideration to play.

Another potential weapon for the Huskers is sophomore Marcus Mendoza. Mendoza is considered the best home run threat of the bunch. Mendoza brings in the most experience of the group, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. Mendoza was even moved to WR during spring practice, but switched back to RB during the start of fall practice. Mendoza's lightning speed makes him a viable candidate for some reps.

"I'm just trying to do what's best for the team," said Mendoza. "If they think that putting me in that position is the best thing, or Lester (Ward) is the best thing, or A.J. (Austin Jones) is the best thing, we're going to be alright." The final option that Coach Beck will consider comes with a few strings attached. That option is Dontrayevous Robinson. The true freshman from Euless, TX joined the team in August. While his fellow freshman Rex Burkhead became an instant role player for the Huskers, Robinson has spent his time on the sidelines, redshirting for this season. Coach Beck has been impressed by Robinson, making him a potential candidate for some carries.

"He's in the mix, and if he's the best one, he's going to play."

With just a few days before the matchup with Texas Tech, Coach Beck and the rest of the staff have a lot to consider. Losing Burkhead leaves a huge void in the Nebraska offense, but Beck has quite a few potential options to choose from.

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