LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Unlike last season, when an injury to running back Rex Burkhead would have devastated Nebraska's offense, coach Bo Pelini is quite comfortable going with the next man up.
Actually, the next three men up could play a lot for the 17th-ranked Cornhuskers (1-0) in Saturday's road game against UCLA (1-0).
Pelini said Monday that Burkhead, a 1,300-yard rusher and All-Big Ten back in 2011, is questionable after an MRI confirmed a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
Backups Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard and Imani Cross combined for 177 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries after Burkhead left in the first quarter against Southern Mississippi. Abdullah also caught a TD pass.
"We have a lot of confidence in those backs," Pelini said. "They're talented guys. I like how they played, how they responded."
Pelini said Abdullah, a situational player as a freshman last season, can be an every-down back now that he has a better understanding of the spread-option offense. Abdullah had 15 carries for 81 yards against Southern Miss, both career highs, and caught four passes for 39 yards after making just one catch last season.
"I feel for Rex. Hopefully he has a speedy recovery," Abdullah said. "You never want to see someone like that go down. I've got to make the most of it. I've got to run the ball for my team. I'm probably going to be the anchor on Saturday so I've got to step up."
Heard appeared in seven games in a mop-up role as a freshman last year, and coaches thought he would have a better chance to get on the field if he changed positions. He worked at cornerback in the spring but moved back to running back after Aaron Green transferred to TCU in June.
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