Nebraska Football: Is It 'Bye Bye' To Running Out of the 'I?'

Brandon CavanaughCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 26: Rex Burkhead #22 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers powers through the Colorado Buffalo defense during their game at Memorial Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Colorado 45-17 (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

It worked before, why not try it again?

This is the question that some Cornhusker fans are asking in reference to settling on a very familiar offensive identity.

Heading into the Big Ten conference, an offense favoring the run, much like what the Cornhuskers have displayed in the past, might seem ideal.

Look at the heavyweights of the conference like Ohio State or Wisconsin. Both teams are well known for the ability to punch their opponents in the mouth.

The Badgers and Buckeyes both have a vital component necessary for any power rushing attack going into the 2011 season: More than one sturdy, punishing running back.

The Cornhuskers, on the other hand, don’t.

James White, who rushed for 1,052 yards last season, returns for Wisconsin. Montee Ball, who tallied 996 yards, will join him in the Badgers backfield. White tips the scales at just less than 200 pounds while Ball is a beast at 236.

Ohio State running backs Dan Herron, credited with 1,196 yards in 2011, and Brandon Saine, who posted 351 yards, happily help Terrelle Pryor catch his breath.

Saine’s numbers might not be eye-popping, but he averaged 4.8 yards every time he was handed the football.

Much like Wisconsin’s duo, the Buckeyes’ rushing leader is the lighter of the two at 202 pounds while the “battering ram” checks in at 219.

Where does Nebraska fit into all of this?

As it stands, the Cornhuskers return only one experienced running back in Rex Burkhead. He has shown tremendous power and athleticism while weighing in at 210 pounds. There’s nothing but uncertainty behind him on the depth chart.

Nebraska is currently waiting to receive the final word on whether or not Braylon Heard will be attending fall camp. Technically, two very key backs aren’t even part of the team yet. Verbal commitments Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green aren’t actual Cornhuskers until they sign with Nebraska on February 2nd.

Assuming Heard doesn’t find his way to Lincoln, that leaves the Cornhuskers with one running back that weighs 177 pounds (Abdullah) and another at 191 (Green) backing-up Burkhead.

While Nebraska does have other backs on the roster, none are as talented as the incoming recruits.

Let’s analyze why it would be unwise for the Cornhuskers to rely on a power running attack in 2011.

Nebraska ran an average of 66 plays per game in 2010.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Cornhuskers decide to go with a 65-35 run-pass ratio in 2011 and play the same average of snaps per game as last season. Also assume that Nebraska starts Burkhead and uses Green and Abdullah for fresh legs.

That would mean that the Cornhuskers are going to hand the ball off approximately 43 times per contest.

Taking into account that Burkhead is likely to see at least 20-25 snaps regardless of the offense, that means he would handle around 50 percent of all handoffs game after punishing game.

While Green and Abdullah would ideally be able to make something happen with their fleet feet and overall athleticism, talent can only cover up freshman deficiencies for so long.

Both backs will need to learn to trust their blockers, avoid east-to-west running and learn to carry the football with a super glue-tight grip.

Naturally, the two would also need to withstand a constant pounding at their current size 10 or 11 times per game.

While the days of a Nebraska fullback being second or third in overall rushing yardage are likely a thing of the past, that’s not to say that the Cornhuskers can never return to a bruising style of play.

It just wouldn’t be the best idea.

For the time being, that is.

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