Mostly everyone in Memorial Stadium on Saturday couldn't have been happier to see No. 22 lined up in Nebraska's backfield again, but no one was more relieved than Rex Burkhead himself.
After missing essentially the first three games of the season (he only had three carries in the opener before suffering his sprained MCL injury), Burkhead said he cherished every play he got against Idaho State.
That certainly showed with his production in the limited number of carries he got.
"It felt good just to get back out there in a game atmosphere, being on the field with my teammates, it was fun," Burkhead said. "Just running around getting more comfortable with the knee. You kind of get comfortable in practice and stuff, but it's never the same as in a game getting tackled. It felt good, and I came out clean."
Head coach Bo Pelini said the plan going in was to give Burkhead anywhere from 10-15 carries depending on how the game went. Though he only ran the ball eight times and caught a pass, the Plano, Texas, native said he was more than happy with his workload in his first game back.
While Pelini said Burkhead could have played last week against Arkansas State if needed, Burkhead said he's been completely on board with how the staff has managed his injury and playing it safe with his recovery.
"I have confidence in the coaches and the trainers and the doctors to allow me to be in the best situation," Burkhead said. "You don't want to rush it. You want to come back and be comfortable with it when you're out there. You don't want to hesitate, because that's when you get hurt."
Burkhead said he felt about 90 percent healthy going into Saturday's game, and was hopeful he'd be back up close to 100 percent with another week of rehab. Pelini said he was very pleased to see the way Burkhead responded in his return.
"I thought he did really well," Pelini said. "I thought he looked good. He had a really good week of practice. Rex is a special player. I think he felt really good. He felt comfortable. We said going into the game that we wanted to get him somewhere around 10 to 15 touches. We did that and we pulled the plug, so we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it going into it. He felt really good."
If there was one complaint Burkhead had after the game, it had to do with the supportive brace he had to wear on his knee during the game.
"The brace is a little restricting, so I can't wait to get it off," he said. "Hopefully that's next week. Yeah, I mean, you've just got to deal with it. It's there for a good cause and a good purpose."
- Robin Washut
Kellogg makes most of opportunity
Playing time opportunities for back-up quarterbacks at Nebraska have been few and far between the past couple of years, but Ron Kellogg finally got his first big chance on Saturday when the Huskers decided to pull Taylor Martinez in the second half.
Kellogg ended the day completing 3-of-5 passes for 19 yards, including an interception and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Steven Osborne in the third quarter.
Considering the massive lead Nebraska had piled up by the time he entered the game, the Omaha native wasn't under very tough circumstances by any means. Even so, just getting a chance to run the offense in a live game was a dream come true.
"Coach (Tim) Beck told me throughout the week to be ready," Kellogg said, "so I went in with the same mindset of having the mental aspect down, and being able to go out there and actually perform was something that I've been dreaming of since I could walk. It was pretty fun."
Kellogg talked about his one big mistake on the interception, taking the blame for making a bad read the play and saying it was something he definitely needed to improve going forward.
He also talked about his first career touchdown pass, which would obviously be a much better memory from the game.
"There were so many emotions, I can't even explain because I'd be here for an hour," Kellogg said. "It was so much fun being able to get the ball to Steve and then score and celebrate with your teammates."
Pelini said he was very comfortable with Kellogg as the No. 2 quarterback, saying the junior proved himself throughout the offseason enough to earn that position.
"He has a great understanding of the offense," Pelini said. "He can really throw the football. He does a really good job in the passing game. He understands where to go with the ball. He's a good decision-maker. We kind of have co-No. 2's between him and Tommy (Armstrong) and the longer the season goes on, the more it clarifies itself and Ronnie's the guy.
"We're glad he was able to get a lot of snaps today, and I have a lot of confidence in what he can do. He's a leader out there, he runs the offense well and he can really manage the team very well."
- Robin Washut
Secondary's experience turns weakness into strength
Dime back Corey Cooper estimated that the Huskers ran about 15 different coverages Saturday, something the coaching staff wouldn't have dreamed of doing a year ago.
The more experienced secondary handled the extra responsibility with aplomb, limiting an Idaho State squad that had passed for more than 300 yards in each of its first two games to 179.
"He's more confident in us and our ability to learn the defense," Cooper said. "He pretty much threw the whole kitchen sink to keep the offense on their toes. It's hard to game plan for us because we've got a lot of stuff going on defensively."
Idaho State's Kevin Yost completed just 16 of his 34 pass attempts and was picked off twice. He was benched in favor of C.J. Reyes in the second half, but the backup didn't have much more success, completing five of nine passes.
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis praised both defensive backs coach Terry Joseph and the secondary's many veterans for the transformation they've made from a year ago.
"Terry has done an exceptional job in my opinion as far as his ability to teach in the classroom," Papuchis said. "He's as good a meeting room teacher as I've been around. That's only half the battle because the players have to invest and buy in. I think this group of guys has really bought into the details of not only their technique, but the system. I think you're seeing improvement because of that."
While the unit was solid the entire game, Evans provided the secondary with a highlight reel-worthy play in the first quarter. The junior picked off Yost and took it back 29 yards for a touchdown to help Nebraska open up a dominating lead.
"He's a guy that really understands what we want from him at that position," Joseph said. "He was in position today to make a big play and he was able to take it to the house and score. Ninety percent of the time, the team that wins the turnover battle is going to win the game and if we can score on defense, that only adds to our percentage."
- Dan Hoppen
Strong debut for Janovich
Andy Janovich had participated in the vaunted Tunnel Walk twice before, but it felt different this time.
Originally tagged as a redshirt player, the freshman fullback went through the tradition during the first two home games with the knowledge he wouldn't play any more than the thousands of fans cheering for him.
But running backs coach Ron Brown had been talking to Janovich for a few weeks about playing, and now the time had come. So this time, the walk-on soaked it in as he sprinted out of the tunnel.
"You feel like people cheer for you more than when you're kind of just out there to be a fan," Janovich said. "I'm just glad I got the opportunity today."
Brown said the coaching staff has debated for a while about whether Janovich would play this year or not. In the end, they decided his progress was too great to keep him off the field.
"As I looked at his progress in practice, he's an excellent athlete," Brown said. "He's an unusual athlete at fullback. He can run and he's fast. He can catch the ball. He's a smart kid and learns things. I think some of it is just getting his feet wet. It was good to see him get out there and get after it. He'll make it interesting at fullback."
Janovich ran three times for six yards and had one reception for eight yards. He was part of a three-headed monster at fullback that led the way for NU's 385 rushing yards.
Janovich said the toughest transition he's had to adjust to from high school is the speed and physicality of college players. But the Gretna product said playing against the Blackshirts every day in practice more than prepared him for this game.
"Playing at Gretna, you could just kind of blow everybody over," Janovich said. "You didn't necessarily have to go as hard as you could every play. Now, it's as hard as you can every play as fast as you can."
- Dan Hoppen
***Pelini and Joseph said P.J. Smith, Josh Mitchell and Mohammed Seisay, all of whom left the game at one point with an injury, were doing fine and were held out of the game only for precautionary reasons.
***Papuchis said the game was the first time linebacker Alonzo Whaley lined up at defensive end, including practice. The staff wanted to get Whaley on the field and figured it would try him as a pass rusher.
***Kenny Bell said he thought offensive coordinator Tim Beck opened up the playbook and called some different plays was not to rub it in, but to put more things on game tape for future opponents to prepare for.
***Idaho State head coach Mike Kramer obviously wasn't too pleased with the way his team performed on Saturday, especially his punt coverage unit. Here was his response to how he felt his punt team fared in the loss:
"Gee, what do you think? They ran one back for 80-freaking yards for a touchdown. Every time we started punting, we started tip-toeing at the end. We couldn't cover sicum."