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Injuries, problems thin Huskers' spotlight position

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Sep 20, 1995 - 23:01 EDT) -- Tailback by committee is nothing new at No. 2 Nebraska, which routinely rotates in fresh players in blowout wins or in big games. Running backs here are supposed to be interchangeable.

Injuries and off-field problems this year have thinned the spotlight position for the national champions.

Starter Lawrence Phillips is suspended for hitting his ex-girlfriend Sept. 10. He awaits sentencing after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault and trespassing charges.

His backup, Damon Benning, can't shake a nagging hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last two games. Senior Clinton Childs, who piled up a career-high 143 yards in last week's game, has a knee sprain. Both players could play Saturday, but coaches aren't sure who to start.

Amid the problems, freshman Ahman Green and sophomore James Sims have rushed to help. There was even talk that freshman fullback Joel Makovicka could see time at tailback, called the I-back in Nebraska's formation.

Green, a highly touted back from Omaha, is the second-leading rusher for Nebraska with 237 yards and four touchdowns. His 111 yards against Arizona State last week was a career-high.

Green, who was considered one of the top high school running backs in the country a year ago, said he had to adjust to pressure at Nebraska.

"I was feeling pressure once the season started," he said. "But once I talked about it with my family and friends and my coach, it got a lot of pressure off my back. I really didn't worry about it."

It didn't take long for coach Tom Osborne to try out Green, a 6-foot, 210-pounder. He was in the game in the third quarter of Nebraska's 64-21 rout of Oklahoma State on Aug. 31 and finished with 52 yards and a touchdown. His 18-yard scamper down the sideline on his first carry announced his arrival.

Green has spent more time studying the Nebraska offense since Phillips' suspension and the injuries to Benning and Childs.

"When I heard, I knew I had to get to know the plays much better and start working a lot harder," Green said. "There's not many of us I-backs back there, so I know I have to toughen up mentally and get ready for the times when I'm in the game."

Sims, a walk-on from Omaha, leads the team with 13.4 yards per carry and is the fastest player on the team with a 4.41-second time in the 40-yard dash. His 161 yards this season include an 80-yard scoring run.

The 25-year-old Sims this week found himself answering questions about a July 3 confrontation with a former girlfriend. Sims said he was trying to keep the woman from hitting him when she fell and cut her leg on broken glass. Her car window, he said, was broken when the car door was slammed.

Sims faces a Nov. 7 trial date on charges of disturbing the peace and destruction of property, both misdemeanors. He said he is innocent.

"A lot of people just want to take a couple of cheap shots at the program ... (and) at Coach Osborne, maybe his ability to coach, his ability to discipline his players," Sims said.

"He told us long before the season started that we're going to be under a microscope being the defending national champions. He told us anything we do will be blown out of proportion. I don't think that a lot of guys took it to heart, but now they're beginning to see what he was talking about."