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October 13, 2009Nebraska has already faced its fair share running back questions in 2009.
Before the season even started head coach Bo Pelini dismissed junior Quentin Castille for violation of team rules.
The latest obstacle the Husker backfield must hurdle this week is trying to replace freshman running back Rex Burkhead, who will miss the next several weeks with a foot injury.
Pelini confirmed on Tuesday that Burkhead went down with a foot injury at the end of Monday's practice, but he would not speculate how long the talented freshman would be out for.
"Everybody heals differently," Pelini said. "Rex is going to be out for a while. I'm not sure how long."
Pelini said replacing Burkhead will not be easy, but he has confidence that the players behind him can step up in his place.
Last week at Missouri the Huskers only traveled four running backs on their travel roster. Besides junior starter Roy Helu and Burkhead, redshirt freshman Lester Ward and sophomore Austin Jones were the only other running backs that made the trip to Columbia this past Thursday.
Pelini said along with Ward and Jones, he also expects sophomore Marcus Mendoza, freshman Dontrayevous Robinson and redshirt freshman Collins Okafor all to push for playing time this week behind Helu in practice.
"We have a number of different candidates, " Pelini said. "You've got Mendoza, A.J. Jones, Lester Ward, you've got Collins Okafor and Dontrayevous Robinson, so we've got a stable of guys. We rep all those guys. They're prepared and ready to go."
Junior quarterback Zac Lee said losing Burkhead is no doubt a big loss to the team, but he has confidence that the players behind Helu can step up in his place this week.
"It will be a blow, but we have other guys that we have confidence in," Lee said. "I'm pretty confident that they'll make the best out of their opportunity."
If anything, it means that Helu is going to have to carry even a bigger load this week against Texas Tech. Over NU's first five games, Helu has averaged 20 offensive touches per game, while Burkhead has provided NU with around six.
Lee said he feels like Helu will be able to carry more of load over the next few games if they need him to.
"I've said Roy is a stud and I think he can take whatever we put on him, honestly," Lee said. "It's always nice to have a second guy that you can throw in there and give him a blow once in a while
"Roy just wants the ball. Roy is always ready for a carry or ready for an opportunity. He's a guy if there is wear and tear, he doesn't show it. He does a good job with that."
When you play a team like the Huskers will face this week in Texas Tech, it will obviously be important for NU to establish the ground game.
Last year the Huskers held the ball for nearly 40 minutes against the Red Raiders in Lubbock, limiting Techs' overall offensive possessions. Pelini said on Tuesday there's no question Nebraska is going to have to establish a solid ball control offense if they want to have success against Tech on Saturday.
"We've got to be able to run the ball better," Pelini said. "Not just against Texas Tech, but all the time. We didn't play real well for the first three quarters (at Missouri). There are just some things we need to get fixed and worked out, but it's safe to say we need to run the ball better this week.
"We need to do everything better this weekend. We need to play our best football this Saturday in all phases to win this football game. This is a good football team, a really good football team."