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Husker running backs say they are ready

By Steven M. Sipple
Associated Press

Posted: Dec. 26, 1999

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Pessimists might see bad times ahead for Nebraska's running game in the upcoming Fiesta Bowl against Tennessee

One of Nebraska's top two I-backs is having difficulty gripping the ball because of an injury, and the other has practiced sporadically of late because of an aching left toe.

And if that's not enough, Tennessee allows only 2.7 yards per rush.

"I think we've played a lot of good defenses," said Nebraska starting I-back Dan Alexander, who returned to practice last week after suffering a gash on his right palm in the first quarter of the Dec. 4 Big 12 title game.

"I've seen a little bit of Tennessee on film, and I think they're good and I think they're really quick--that's kind of their strength," he said.

Then the 6-foot, 250-pound Alexander chuckled.

"But I'm hoping we can go in there and get more than 2.7 yards per rush," he said.

Nebraska, averaging 265.9 rushing yards per game and 5.0 per carry, will try to maintain that pace despite its I-backs' lingering ailments and a Tennessee defense that allows just 89.6 yards per game.

Husker Coach Frank Solich is monitoring his I-back situation closely.

"We've worked the option game hard in practice, but you always worry about the timing on the option game," Solich said. "And if a guy has to sit out of practice for an extended period of time, that's a concern."

Neither do Alexander and Correll Buckhalter, who both insist their injuries will have little impact come Jan. 2

Alexander, whose 865 rushing yards trail only quarterback Eric Crouch's 889 for the team lead, hurt his hand as he was being tackled against Texas.

As he tried to brace himself on the turf, his fingers hyperextended, rolling back awkwardly toward the back of his hand. His skin ripped open and the gash required 13 stitches.

The stitches are gone; only a scar remains.

He practices with his fingers taped so he won't injure his hand again.

Buckhalter, the Huskers' third-leading rusher with 662 yards, relieved Alexander in the Big 12 game, but suffered a turf-toe injury in the first half. He was still able to pound out a season-best 136 yards against the Longhorns.

But the 6-foot, 225-pound junior has since been in and out of workouts.

"It's very frustrating to have a nagging injury," said the Collins, Miss., native. "Hopefully, after two days of rest, it will go away completely."

The fact Nebraska is practicing and will play on natural grass instead of artificial turf helps, Buckhalter said.

"If we had to play on turf, I wouldn't be able to do anything," he said. "Being on grass, there's some give."

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