Buckhalter learned to appreciate role as Alexander's backup
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Early last fall, Nebraska coach Frank Solich kicked his starting I-back off the team after he complained about not getting the ball enough.
That hasn't been a problem this year.
The I-back role this fall has been shared harmoniously by seniors Dan Alexander and Correll Buckhalter, who haven't uttered a peep about playing time.
"Both guys since they've been here have been that way. If they weren't, how they were used this year probably could have caused some problems," Solich said. "They get the big picture. They understand what winning is all about and they were willing to do whatever it took to win."
And this year they did what it took to help lead the nation in rushing at 349.3 yards per game -- 26 yards better than No. 2 Ohio's 323.
Alexander led the No. 9 Huskers (9-2) in rushing with 1,154 yards on 182 carries. Quarterback Eric Crouch was second with 971 yards and 20 TDs and Buckhalter third at 750 yards on 101 carries.
A year ago it was Crouch leading all Nebraska backs with just 889 yards. Buckhalter said he and Alexander wanted an I-back on top again.
"That was something we had to get established again this year. People were talking about Nebraska losing its running game," Buckhalter said. "It was great for us to come back this year and have a great one. With the great offensive line we had, we didn't have a choice but to win the rushing title."
Fullbacks Willie Miller and Judd Davies helped. In addition to clearing the way for the I-backs and Crouch, Miller had 225 yards on 45 carries and Davies rushed 18 times for 183.
Alexander and Buckhalter had been a physical one-two-combination for Nebraska this fall. Alexander, at 6-foot, 245 pounds, came to Nebraska as a fullback but Solich moved him to I-back when he saw how quick Alexander was.
Buckhalter is as tall as Alexander, but about 20 pounds lighter with better speed. With Alexander pounding away on defenses in the first couple of series, a rested Buckhalter has been able exploit the defenders for some big plays. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns.
"They've done it with regularity. They've both done it while they have not been 100 percent," Solich said. "They've added an awful lot to our offense and I'm really pleased that they were able to have such a good year."
And, perhaps most importantly, they've done it quietly. Last fall was a tumultuous one for Solich, who was entering his second season as coach.
DeAngelo Evans got the starting I-back job, but after two games and frustrated with a limited role in the offense, Evans quit the team. When he later changed his mind, Solich wouldn't let him back on.
Solich had already suspended Buckhalter for a game after he skipped three practices because he was also frustrated with a lack of carries. It was the last time Buckhalter complained.
"Usually I'm not the type of person who would do something like that. I just had a lot of frustration," Buckhalter said. "I just took matters into my own hands instead of discussing it with my parents and my coaches. I took matters into my own hands and that's the lesson I learned from it."
Alexander said not everybody could handle sharing the I-back duties like he and Buckhalter have. He said it comes down to modesty.
"We break it down by certain things we can do and certain things we can't do," Alexander said. "In certain situations, he's a better back. In certain situations, I'm a better back. That makes it easy to share - when you realize you aren't the best at everything. That you aren't some Superback."
Buckhalter, who led the Huskers in rushing in 1998 with 799 yards when Alexander and Evans missed much of the season, also doesn't mind the tag-team approach.
"I thought it worked great for me and Dan. We share a great bond outside and on the field," Buckhalter said. "I was raised to be not a selfish person. Selfish people don't get too far in life."
Nebraska failed to break the 300-yard mark in only four games this season. The Huskers' lowest totals were 195 yards against Oklahoma and 200 against Kansas State -- Nebraska's only two losses of the season.
Buckhalter and Alexander will finish their careers Dec. 30 against No. No. 18 Northwestern (8-3) in the Alamo Bowl. Freshmen on the Huskers' last national championship team in 1997, Alexander and Buckhalter admit being frustrated about finishing the season well out of the hunt.
"I just think this year is one of those years where we just couldn't go out and get everybody on the same page," Alexander said. "It's really sad because seeing how much talent we have and how much we could have done, it's really kind of disappointing to see opportunities slip by during the season."