Final take: Huskers quietly making noise
Click Here to view this video.
FRESNO, Calif. - You probably won't hear very many national college football analysts give Nebraska much love for their 55-19 win at Fresno State, but that's probably because very few of them were up late enough to watch it.
However, fact is what the Huskers did on the road Saturday night should not be treated lightly. I don't care what team you are playing, to go on the road and win in the fashion NU did was impressive.
Remember, this was a Fresno State team that had the second longest home winning streak in the nation at 13 games. NU made sure it wouldn't extend to 14 within the game's first 3 minutes when they jumped up 14-0 after 70 and 57 yard touchdown plays on their opening two possessions.
"It's obviously important to get a jump start on the game," sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. "Being able to accomplish what we accomplished and physically just outplay them and put some points on the board early was big."
Especially big after the struggles we saw from this offense last week against McNeese State. What jumped out on Saturday was the balance. The Huskers finished with 282 yards passing and 280 yards rushing. You don't see that very often at Nebraska, especially where the passing numbers are higher than the total rushing yards.
Don't look now, but the Huskers are just one of two undefeated teams left in the Big Ten joining Penn State, who won at Rutgers on Saturday.
This week's game against Miami is going to go a long way now to shape the perception of the Big Red nationally. The potential is there with this team to be 5-0 going out to Michigan State, but nobody wants to buy in nationally quite yet until they can see these types of performances more consistently.
"I don't know how big of a statement this was, but next week we'll definitely be able to make a bigger statement," defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said.
"We just have to stay focused and get our mind right. Obviously it's going to be a short week. We are going to take it like any other week and just prepare like we would for any other team and just give it our all. I know we might be a little banged up when we come back and practice tomorrow, but we got to get out there and focus on the task at hand."
Now on to the post game grade out….
What I saw on Saturday
***Nebraska used defensive end Randy Gregory very sparingly on Saturday. From my count only around 10 plays, primarily on third down passing situations. My guess is with the game in hand early there really wasn't a need to keep him out there coming off knee surgery.
***It was very hard to guess how many Nebraska fans were in the stadium on Saturday night, but the number was easily over 10,000 and it became even more evident by the end of the game when the Fresno State fans left in the third and fourth quarters. Probably the best part was seeing the Husker fans surround the field and the tunnel as both NU and Fresno walked off together. You literally would've thought this was a Husker home game.
***It's been a long time since Nebraska has had a punt return weapon like De'Mornay Pierson-El. You'd probably have to go back to DeJuan Groce. He gives the Huskers a true weapon back there, and those hidden yards he gets are huge in a football game.
***Even the little defensive end Randy Gregory played on Saturday, he more than made his presence felt. Besides getting constant pressure, he drew a double team that allowed Greg McMullen to get an easy sack. Let's just say the San Francisco 49ers scout sitting next to us in the press box was more than impressed with Gregory.
***Tip of the hat to walk-on receiver Lane Hovey, who stepped up and gave the Huskers a big third down catch to set up a 98 yard scoring drive. Hovey finished with 48 yards on three catches.
***Probably my biggest concern tonight with the offense was they were home run or bust. A lot of that is on Fresno State. They gamble so much on defense it leaves room for big plays, but you still would have liked to see more sustained 8 to 10 play scoring drives.
***Senior offensive lineman Jake Cotton said the heat wasn't a factor at all for the Big Red.
***Running back Ameer Abdullah declined interviews after the game. It's the second time now in three games Abdullah hasn't talked to reporters and he actually didn't talk to the press this week leading up to the Fresno State game.
The final grades
Rushing offense: B
It was boom or bust at times for Nebraska in the ground game, but the Huskers finished with 280 yards rushing on 42 carries, led by running back Ameer Abdullah's 110 yards on 19 carries. You would've liked to have seen more consistency in the ground game on Saturday, but Fresno State was being so aggressive it was going to lead to a lot of all or nothing type runs.
Passing offense: B+
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong's pass on the game's opening drive to find Jordan Westerkamp was a thing of beauty. That play set the tone for some big plays, at the Huskers threw for 282 yards on just 24 attempts. The tight ends also scored two touchdowns and walk-on wide receiver Lane Hovey was a spark off the bench with three catches for 48 yards.
Rushing defense: B+
Fresno State's running backs had just 48 yards on 18 carries, as NU made the Bulldogs very one-dimensional. Bulldog quarterback Brian Burrell did break a 66 yard run late in the game, but it's tough to downgrade the defense too much for that, as they were stifling against the run the entire game - especially when it mattered.
Passing defense: B+
Since the Bulldogs couldn't run the ball, they were forced to use a short controlled passing game. They threw the ball 59 times, with very few of them going any deeper than five yards. Having Gregory back helped the defense establish more consistency with the pass rush. In all, the Blackshirts forced Fresno State into 13 punts.
Special teams: A-
Pierson-El was a game changing weapon for Nebraska, providing a spark we haven't seen at punt return at NU in a long time. Punter Sam Foltz was also his usual self, showing great leg strength. However, David Santos made a very bad decision knocking a pooch punt out of bounds that led to a safety. Hard to count that as special teams though, since the defense was on the field for that play and Santos apparently didn't realize it was a punt. Drew Brown was solid as well, but did miss an early field goal attempt. It was good to see him bounce back strong though and make his next two.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 5:05 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.