LINCOLN — Sophomore I-back Ameer Abdullah didn't know he had gone over 1,000 yards for the season until Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown told him.
Then Abdullah went and told fellow I-back Rex Burkhead.
Abdullah said Saturday that he doesn't know where he'd be without Burkhead. The senior has had that kind of influence on him, even during a season in which Burkhead has missed so much playing time because of a knee injury.
“Rex has really been a mentor for me,” Abdullah said. “Watching him play and just watching how he works and watching him off the field as well, it's really shaping what I want to be in the future.”
Abdullah wrote “For 22” on his arm Saturday, a show of sympathy for Burkhead not being able to play in his final game at Memorial Stadium. Abdullah said he couldn't imagine how hard it had to be.
Left to be the No. 1 option again, Abdullah carried 18 times for 79 yards, stopping a run of four straight 100-yard games. It was still enough for Abdullah to reach 1,021 through 11 games — the 32nd 1,000-yard season in NU history.
“I told him I was really proud of him,” Brown said. “He ain't just about his stats. He'll do anything for you. He doesn't get all hyped up about that. But it's a milestone … for a kid to be a second-string running back, and to have Rex go down, and have that kid step in.”
Burkhead still on the shelf
Burkhead suited up Saturday, participated in warm-ups wearing a black brace, and then stayed on the sideline for the fourth straight game. Any notions that Burkhead might get a few ceremonial snaps on Senior Day were nixed by coaches and trainers.
Coach Bo Pelini said Burkhead might be available for Friday's game at Iowa.
“Rex could've played today, but we chose not to do it,” Pelini said. “We think another week's going to help. We'll see how it is come Friday. I know you guys are probably sick of getting that answer from me, but when the time's right, you'll see him.”
Brown said Burkhead's stayed tough and committed throughout the injury process, never missing a meeting or film session, even though it's customary for injured players to “back off” or “put themselves on a desert island” because they're not part of the game plan.
“I'm sure he's had had his moments where he's teared and it's frustrating,” Brown said. “But that's below the sea level. We haven't seen that. What I've seen is him extending his arms, loving those players, coaching those running backs. ... He shows up as if he's going to play every week. And he doesn't know if he's going to play any week. But he's out there battling.”
Evans impresses again
Philip Nelson hit Donnell Kirkwood on a swing pass on Minnesota's second offensive snap, and it appeared that the tailback would easily reach the first-down stake on the second-and-1 play.
But Ciante Evans shot through and chopped down Kirkwood, and the Gophers didn't gain an inch of ground. It was the first of six unassisted tackles in the first half for the junior cornerback.
“One thing we want to do in everything we do is attack,” NU assistant coach Terry Joseph said. “When you got to make those open-field tackles, the one thing he does is he's always closing on a guy. He's never squatting, waiting on a guy to make a move. He's going to make his move before the guy gets going.”
Evans turned in another steady performance against the run and pass
“It'd be hard-pressed for somebody to say he's not our best defensive player day in and day out,” Joseph said.
Kill has high praise for NU
Jerry Kill uttered a couple of words that always make folks take notice in the football world.
It was the way Minnesota's head coach described Nebraska's defense, a unit that had limited Kill's Gophers to 102 yards through three quarters Saturday.
“They play, I've said all along, Southeast Conference defense,” Kill said. “They play cover one and get guys in the box, and you're going to have to beat them in one-on-one coverage. They made it tough for you to catch, playing aggressive one-on-one coverage, very physical back in the secondary.
“There's a reason they're where they're at right now.”
Nelson, Minnesota's quarterback, said finding room in the defensive backfield was a task all game.
“The gap for open receivers was smaller than for any other game, that's for sure,” he said.
* * *
>> Video: Jon Nyatawa's postgame analysis:
>> Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: NU's Taylor Martinez after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: NU senior P.J. Smith after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: NU's Kenny Bell after the Minnesota game:
>> Video: Tom Osborne leads NU onto the field:
>> Video: The Husker seniors are honored:
>> Video: A tribute to Tom Osborne:
>> Video: Nebraska-Minnesota game highlights: