Nebraska secured the longest opening win streak in the country at 27 wins with a victory over Southern Miss, beating the Golden Eagles 49-20. While the Huskers won the day, they had three players go down with game-ending injuries, all of which were seniors and starting players for Nebraska.
Senior tight end Ben Cotton went down with an injury to his ribs after catching a six-yard pass. Cotton never returned and could be seen wearing street clothes during the second half. No timetable has been given on his return and he has not been ruled out for the UCLA game yet.
Senior wide receiver Tim Marlowe went down with a shoulder injury after failing to haul in a touchdown pass from Taylor Martinez in the second quarter. After the play he jogged off the field with his right arm looking limp. What was initially thought to be a separated shoulder turned out be a broken collarbone that will sideline him for weeks.
Not to diminish Cotton and Marlowe's injuries, but the big injury of the day was senior running back Rex Burkhead going down in the first quarter with an MCL sprain. Burkhead limped off the field and had his leg wrapped in ice, but at the end of the game he was in street clothes with no ice on his leg and was apparently walking fine.
Cotton is unknown for a recovery date, so he may be fine for the UCLA game. He is known as the blocking tight end for Nebraska, as he can lay out defenders but still has the hands to go out and make the catch.
In his absence, junior Jake Long stepped in and delivered a great performance. Long had three catches for 41 yards and a touchdown where he was wide open. Nebraska still has its other No. 1 tight end in Kyler Reed, who is healthy, so for the time being Nebraska should be fine for a few games while Cotton recovers if he needs to, but Nebraska will most likely need him during the brutal non-conference slate.
Can Nebraska beat UCLA without these three?
Marlowe is done for at least a few weeks, and depending on the severity of the break, he could be done for the year. A collarbone will apparently heal within 12 weeks of the break, so if it is not too severe you can expect to see Marlowe back probably sometime in October. If not maybe he has a shot at a medical redshirt.
When Marlowe went down, sophomore Jamal Turner stepped into the role and had two catches for 46 yards. Nebraska also had several other receivers step up. Players like Steven Osborne, Tyler Evans and Tyler Wullenwaber all had catches to go along with the two other starting receivers in Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa. During the game, 10 different players caught a pass, as Martinez threw for a career high 354 yards and five touchdowns. It is unfortunate to see Marlowe go down, but Nebraska's offense has several other receivers to go to in his absence.
Now for the big one. Rex Burkhead started off the day with a 57-yard touchdown run and finished with 68 yards on three carries. From the sound of things, it's a Grade I sprain, meaning Burkhead will be fully healed in 2-to-4 weeks. But he could be back in time for the UCLA game.
When he went down, three running backs took his place. Sophomores Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard had 81 and 34 yards respectively, with Heard scoring a rushing touchdown, and Abdullah adding 39 yards and a score in receiving. True freshman Imani Cross stepped in and showed Husker Nation what he can do, rushing for 62 yards.
The Huskers may not need Burkhead to beat UCLA, and shouldn't need him to beat Arkansas State and Idaho State. If they don't then Burkhead should rest until he is back to 100 percent to take on the Big Ten, where they will need his talents, leadership and experience to have a shot at the Big Ten title.
It is unfortunate to see these three go down with injuries, especially considering it could've been worse. If taken to the extreme, these three would be done for either the year or until late October or early November. I wish these three a speedy recovery, and hopefully we won't see any more injuries from the Huskers.