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updated: 9/21/2012 6:10 PM

Huskers' Burkhead returns to face Idaho State

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  • Nebraska's Rex Burkhead runs 57 yards for a touchdown against Southern Miss on Sept. 1. He's missed the last two games with a sprained ligament.

      Nebraska's Rex Burkhead runs 57 yards for a touchdown against Southern Miss on Sept. 1. He's missed the last two games with a sprained ligament.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Rex Burkhead is back just in time to test his left knee before Big Ten play starts.

Really, the only unknowns about No. 25 Nebraska's game against Idaho State on Saturday are how many carries Burkhead will get and how effective he'll be after missing two games with a sprained ligament.

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The Cornhuskers (2-1) managed just fine in his absence, having run for more than 250 yards three straight games. Their stable of running backs becomes four deep with Burkhead, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck said all of them are part of the plan against the Bengals.

"Just because Rex is back doesn't mean we're going to push those guys to the wayside," Beck said.

The Huskers probably will employ their power running game against the Bengals (1-1), much the way they did in last week's win over Arkansas State.

With Wisconsin visiting next week, there's no need to show too much of the offensive repertoire against a Football Championship Subdivision team that has lost 33 straight road games and 45 of its last 51 games overall.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini plans to be on hand for the entire game. Last week an ambulance took him to a hospital for tests in the middle of the Arkansas State game. He complained of heartburn and dizziness. Pelini said heart problems were ruled out, and he was given a clean bill of health.

This is the third year in a row Nebraska has played an opponent from the FCS.

Pelini said the challenge for his team is to improve while people outside the program write off the game as an easy win.

"What can we do today to make ourselves better?" Pelini said. "We have a long, long way to go as a football team right now. We have to stay hungry."

No one is hungrier than Burkhead, who all but begged the coaching staff to let him practice during the two weeks he was held out.

"I hate just watching everything go on," he said, "but at the same time it puts it in a different perspective."

Burkhead, named All-Big Ten last season after rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, was injured on his third carry against Southern Mississippi. Pelini said Burkhead probably could have played last week, but there was no need to bring him back before he was 100 percent.

Ameer Abdullah, Burkhead's top backup, has become the Big Ten's second-leading rusher, with 122 yards a game. He had career highs with 30 carries, 167 yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas State.

Imani Cross is averaging 7.1 yards a carry, Braylon Heard 6.8 and quarterback Taylor Martinez 5.9.

"I think that's one of the great things about our backs is that it doesn't matter who is back there," offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. "All of them can make plays. If we've got Rex, Imani, Braylon or Ameer, all of those guys are huge playmakers. We're just going to block the best that we can and make holes so they can make plays."

Idaho State ranks 118th out of 121 FCS teams at stopping the run, largely because Air Force of the Football Bowl Subdivision ground out 484 yards against the Bengals three weeks ago. The Bengals' 3-4 defense gives up 50 pounds a man to the Huskers on the line.

Idaho State runs a spread offense that attempts 60 passes a game. Kevin Yost has completed 74 percent of his passes for 803 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception, in two games. Derek Graves has caught 30 passes for 269 yards, and three other receivers have at least 12 catches.

"We're putting up video-game numbers in our offense simply because that's the way we want to play," Bengals coach Mike Kramer said.

Two years ago, South Dakota State of the FCS came to Lincoln and made it a four-quarter game before losing 17-3.

Martinez said the Huskers can't count on beating the Bengals in a walkover, even though that's what the fans expect.

"This is like their Super Bowl game," Martinez said. "They're going to throw everything out there at us. They'll give us their best shot."

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