September 6, 2009

Green, Burkhead show promising signs for future

While Nebraska obviously had plenty to be excited about on Saturday as far as this season is concerned, it also got some definite reason for optimism regarding the next four years.


Among the many highlights from the Huskers' 49-3 win over Florida Atlantic, the play of true freshmen Cody Green and Rex Burkhead in the collegiate debuts gave the impression that the offense would be in good hands for the few years to come.


Green replaced junior quarterback Zac Lee late in the third quarter, completing 2-of-3 passes for 18 yards. His biggest impact, however, came on the ground, as he broke off a 49-yard scamper down the sideline and then capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run a few plays later.


Burkhead was equally as effective, rushing for 39 yards on nine carries, including an 8-yard touchdown run to end the third quarter.


"It was amazing," Green said. "It's what high school kids dream about when they get to college. The atmosphere - 85,000 people calling your name - that's something that sends shivers down your spine. I was out there loving it, especially to get to actually go out there and compete like I did today, I'd give the world to do it again."


For Green, the past eight months have been a wild ride. After joining the team early and participating in spring practice, Green came into the fall assuming he would redshirt this season and continue to develop his skills.


But when redshirt freshman Kody Spano was lost for the season with his second torn ACL injury, Green's plans for the year suddenly changed drastically.


"The last eight months, it's been a rollercoaster," Green said. "An absolute rollercoaster. It's probably been the best eight months of my life, seriously. Especially coming in from high school, learning the offense, thinking I'm going to redshirt and then actually getting called up and saying, 'Hey, you better get ready.'


"It's something I've dreamed about for years, and now I actually get to do it. It's amazing."


Though his passing numbers weren't anything to get too excited about, head coach Bo Pelini said he was very pleased with Green's debut performance on Saturday.


"I think it was pretty obvious I thought he played well," Pelini said. "He handled himself well. He handled himself the way he's been doing in practice. He's a confident young man and very talented. We wanted to take that opportunity to get him out there because we're going to need him.


"Eventually you're going to need the guy. Very seldom do you make it through a season with one quarterback. That doesn't happen very often so we're going to need him at some point."


As for Burkhead, his game was definitely overshadowed by junior Roy Helu's 153 yards and three touchdowns. Still, many walked away from the Plano, Texas, native's Husker debut impressed with his natural running ability and overall feel for the game for a kid just a few months out of high school.


In his mind, though, he was just trying to make sure his nerves didn't get the best of him.


"Really just coming out for the first time for the Tunnel Walk and seeing all the people was kind of amazing," Burkhead said. "I guess the speed is a little quicker than high school and the holes close a lot quicker."


His coaches weren't quite as modest.


"I thought he did outstanding," running backs coach Tim Beck said. "I was really pleased with the way he played and the effort he gave. For a first-time true freshman guy coming in, I was really pleased with the way he played."


It was only one game, and the bulk of both Green and Burkhead's production came during mop-up duty when the pressure was anything but heavy. Still, even if the freshman duo only gave a glimpse of what's to come in a few years, Nebraska be feeling pretty good about its backfield future.


"Me and Rex, especially out on the practice field, we made a little connection that we know that we're going to be together for a long time, so better to make a companion now than do it later," Green said. "I think we feel comfortable with each other back there."


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