The I-back rotation and carries might not have gone as planned, but Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Friday that Ameer Abdullah has helped make it all work out.
The sophomore needs 58 yards Saturday against Minnesota to hit 1,000 — and he's stepped in for injured senior Rex Burkhead to accumulate a team-high 182 rushing attempts.
“You think of teams in the Big Ten, and who has a running back like Ameer?” Beck said at the Big Red Breakfast. “You always see big backs, talented guys, but you don't see too many guys that are very athletic, quick and get into space (like Abdullah). Very dangerous.”
Beck said NU's hope was to split the majority of carries in 2012 between Burkhead and Abdullah, then farm out other work to Braylon Heard and Imani Cross.
But Burkhead injured his left knee in the first half of the season-opening game, aggravated it two other weeks and has been limited to 47 carries. Burkhead hasn't played the past three games, and his status for Saturday is uncertain.
“If you would have come to me before the year and said, 'Coach, you're going to lose Burkhead for most of the Big Ten and probably most of the year,' I'd probably be hiding in some bar somewhere,” Beck said. “Let alone (thinking) we'd be able to have some of the success that we're having.”
Abdullah has averaged 5.2 yards per carry on his way to 942 overall, and he has scored eight touchdowns. He has 96 carries during the Huskers' current four-game winning streak, capped by a career-high 31 last Saturday in the 32-23 win over Penn State.
Heard also has been battling to stay healthy, and Cross is a freshman. It all has cut into plans by Beck and running backs coach Ron Brown to share the load, but Abdullah actually has thrived with the extra work.
“Sometimes you get into a rhythm,” Beck said. “The perfect example was Michigan State. Coach Brown was on the headset and he was like, 'Tim, feed him. He's got that look, keep feeding him.' Sometimes when a guy's feeling it, you just leave him. You just let him play — no matter what happens — and that's happened a few times.”
Beck said Abdullah is more durable than people think despite being 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds.
“Real strong and real explosive,” Beck said.
Nebraska (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) can inch closer to a Legends Division title — and a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 1 — by beating Minnesota in the 2:30 p.m. game at Memorial Stadium. There were even “Road to Indy” T-shirts for sale at a table in the back Friday at the Ramada Plaza Omaha Hotel and Convention Center.
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Up front, though, Beck was warning not to overlook the Gophers (6-4, 2-4).
“I've been telling our team, 'Everybody's talking about Indianapolis. We've got Minnesota,' ” Beck said. “They're 6-4. Bowl eligible. They're 25th in the country in total defense.
“They're a good football team. They play hard. They're going to get after us. There's no question about it. It's been a good week of practice, but you've got to play.”
Some other breakfast items:
>> Beck lauded Penn State for being tough and sound. “It was a grueling game. It was a physical, physical, physical ballgame.”
>> Beck doubles as NU's quarterbacks coach, but said graduate assistant Joe Ganz has been a huge help with Taylor Martinez when Beck is tied up with his coordinator duties. “He's a great young coach,” Beck said.
>> Beck said it's going to be a long process for receiver Taariq Allen to come back from the knee injury he suffered against Michigan. “It was a pretty severe injury. I doubt he'll be back for the spring.”
>> Beck said backup quarterback Tommy Armstrong is “going to be a fantastic football player.” The freshman is redshirting this season and is also recovering from a minor knee problem.
After rattling off many of his positive traits, Beck added: “Probably the best thing, and what attracted me so much in recruiting, was what a competitor he is.”
>> With all of the NU quarterbacks returning, Beck was asked if the plan is to redshirt recruit Johnny Stanton next season: “Boy, I don't know,” he said. “I just wanna get through Minnesota.”
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