Injury-plagued Nebraska waits for bowl assignment

Nebraska’s priority is to heal up during the weeklong wait to

find out its bowl destination.

The 22nd-ranked Cornhuskers’ first run through the Big Ten took

a physical toll. Five starters were injured or re-injured during

the regular season-ending 20-7 victory over Iowa on Friday.

”I appreciate the effort those guys gave out there,” coach Bo

Pelini said. ”I think our resolve was something special. I loved

the approach our football team has. They had a never-say-die

attitude.”

The Huskers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) will find out Dec. 4 where

they’ll go for a bowl. They’re hoping for the Capital One in

Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 2 if a second Big Ten team receives a bid to

a BCS game. Otherwise, they could be looking at the Outback in

Tampa, Fla., on the same day.

Nebraska had been a popular pick to win the Legends Division but

was knocked out of contention for a spot in the first Big Ten

championship game when it lost at Michigan a week ago.

Offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said he and his teammates are

disappointed they won’t be playing for a title, as they did the

last two years in the Big 12, but they are excited about the

prospect of winning 10 games for a third straight season.

”It’s the ultimate goal right now,” Sirles said. ”If we’re

not competing for the championship, we want to go out and have as

many wins as possible. We have a chance at 30 wins in three

seasons, and that’s pretty special.”

Nebraska’s athletic training staff will be working overtime to

get players back on the practice field after the rugged game

against Iowa.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez dinged his left ankle and was

limited to handing off and passing after the first quarter.

”He’s going to be hurting for a few days,” Pelini said. ”We

basically couldn’t run him in the second half. He sucked it

up.”

Defensive linemen Terrence Moore and Baker Steinkuhler were

banged up on the first play from scrimmage; Moore returned,

Steinkuhler lasted two more plays.

Another defensive lineman, Chase Rome, has been playing hurt for

weeks and Eric Martin missed the game with an injured right foot.

Reserve defensive ends moved to the interior to shore up

things.

Offensive tackles Marcel Jones and Jermarcus Hardrick had to be

helped off the field with undisclosed injuries, requiring Sirles

and Tyler Moore to shuffle in and out.

Rex Burkhead might have appeared fine running a school-record 38

times for 160 yards. But his right foot was in a walking boot four

days earlier, and he twisted his left ankle during the game.

Offensive line coach Barney Cotton played both sides of the line

for Nebraska in the late 1970s when the Huskers were known as one

of the most bruising teams in the land.

Cotton isn’t happy about all the injuries, but said the Huskers

are comfortable in the Big Ten environment.

”We’re in a great conference for us,” he said. ”We like to

think of ourselves as a physical team, and every year the Big Ten

is going to be as physical as any in the country. The league is

everything we thought it would be as far as how physical it

is.”

Hardrick said there was a huge difference between playing in the

Big Ten this year and the spread offenses of the Big 12 a year

ago.

”Every defense in the Big Ten was big and physical, not a lot

of finesse,” Hardrick said. ”In the Big Ten, you really get to

know your opponent because you’re going to hit him about 80 times a

game.”

Nebraska’s offense meted out its own punishment, with Burkhead

hammering away at the Hawkeyes’ front seven all afternoon.

Running backs coach Ron Brown said Burkhead grudgingly sat out

of two practices last week because of his sore right foot.

”His worst nightmare, because he loves to play,” Brown said.

”Considering he didn’t practice a whole lot this week, he played

real well.”

Burkhead’s longest run went for 14 yards, and he averaged 4.2 a

carry. He didn’t lose yardage until his record-setting 38th, and

final, carry, when he took a knee in victory formation.

After that, he made his way off the field with a slight

limp.

”We knew it was going to be a physical blood bath,” Brown

said. ”We tried to get the guys through it and they played with

great heart.”