Led by quarterback Zac Lee and an impressive stout defense, the Huskers impressed the 299th consecutive sellout crowd Saturday afternoon in Lincoln to the tune of 38-9. Lee, a red-shirt junior went 27 out of 35 for 340 yards and four touchdowns to eleven different receivers in the game.
Junior wide out Niles Paul was Lee's favorite target on the day, Paul had a career-high six catches for 69 yards with his first career touchdown reception. Niles also added the first touchdown run of his career on a 30-yard reverse.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough contribution for the game, Paul added 53 kick off return yards and 17 punt return yards to close with 169 all-purpose yards on the afternoon.
Arkansas State was determined to take the running game away, stacking eight men in the box in most sets while holding the Huskers to just 121 rushing yards; so all Watson and Lee did, was pass, and pass some more. After almost having his first pass of the game intercepted, Lee responded by completing his next eight.
The most impressive was a 43-yard toss to Curenski Gilleylen on the game’s first drive. The ball was put in about the only spot it could be caught.
Junior running back Roy Helu contributed to the passing game with four catches for 44 yards as he was held to a low of only 60 yards on 14 carries rushing the ball. Tight end Mike McNeil, another junior (isn’t the word “junior” sounding better and better every week) also added four catches, including two for touchdowns.
The Huskers jumped to a 21-0 lead two minutes into the second quarter and the game was basically over at that point. Lee was 15-19 for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Zac led the Huskers on back-to-back 80 yard scoring drives as he went 5-for-5 for 54 yards through the air on the second drive, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to McNeill to give NU a 14-0 lead with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
Through the first two drives, Lee was 8-for-9 for 111 yards, while adding three carries for 22 yards on the ground, accounting for 133 of the 160 total offense yards on the drives, impressive credentials to say the least.
After hearing all week long that they were soft, the defense, really earned the nick-name Blackshirts Saturday afternoon by holding the wolves to only 272 total yards including just 131 passing.
Defensive back Prince Amukamara had seven tackles, including a tackle-for-loss, while senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh notched five tackles, including three tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks (17 yards).
All told the defense accounted for four sacks total and seven tackles for loses, but they still were not satisfied. “As a team, we’re not where we want to be,” linebacker Blake Lawrence said. “And that’s a good thing. It’ll take us all year to get there. We strive for perfection, and that wasn’t perfect.”
“I wished we would’ve been more physical, in terms of tackling,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said, wondering aloud how many yards ASU gained after contact. “I think that’s something that really needs to be an emphasis for us coming into this week.”
They are correct, the Huskers head into Blacksburg this week to face a Virginia Tech team that gained more than 600 yards against Marshall in a 52-10 trouncing.
Two different freshman running backs gained more than 160 yards each with Ryan Williams running for 164 yards on 16 carries and scoring three touchdowns. Fellow freshman David Wilson, performing mostly mop-up duty in the second half, actually outdid Williams by a yard, gaining 165 on 12 attempts with one touchdown.
The Huskers come into Blacksburg to face a Hokie team that now has a 31 home game non-conference winning streak. The two teams faced each other in Lincoln a year ago and Virginia Tech won by a score of 35-30. The game will be the Huskers first nationally televised game. I will have a game preview later in the week.
Great win Huskers and for all the fans out there GBR!