Could Checkdown to Abdullah Be the Key to the Season?
The Nebraska coaching staff is probably going to spend most of the season fighting the temptation to overuse running back Ameer Abdullah. When your quarterback is interception-prone and you have an All-American caliber running back, it's got to be enormously tempting to feed him the ball play after play after play. So the idea of making him a major target in the passing game, might seem like overdoing it. But if moving the chains is the goal, you could do a lot worse than throwing the ball to #8.
It's hard to find examples where throwing the ball to Abdullah turned out to be a bad idea. Even when the play fails to produce big yards, it can cause defenses concern about tackling him in space. For example, Abdullah's first catch in the opener against Wyoming went for only three yards. The very next play went for a touchdown and gave NU its first lead.
There were a number of drives sustained with catches by Abdullah, including the game winning drives against Northwestern and Michigan and a pretty important late game situation against Penn State.
Seldom will a pass targetted for a running back result in an interception. Often, it will go for a first down as a back will often have just one man to beat to get to the sticks. That's better odds than in a typical running play and Abdullah's elusiveness is ideally suited in that role. If Abdullah would otherwise have to block a linebacker or defensive end, then it may not be much additional wear and tear to catch a ball out of the backfield.
The Husker coaches will have to exercise some restraint in the use of Abdullah, but in critical third-down situations, he will often be the best option. Hopefully, Tommy Armstrong (or whichever quarterback starts) won't forget about him underneath when things look covered downfield.