Nebraska-Fresno State: 3 Positives and 3 Negatives About the Huskers' 42-29 Win
In Nebraska's surprisingly-close 42-29 win over the upset-minded Fresno State Bulldogs, the Cornhuskers had a mixed bag of results. Here we'll highlight three positives and three negatives about the Huskers' performance.
After Bo Pelini and company expressed a desire to see improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, most of the fans expected to see a more consistent and more dominant football team trot out onto the field. What they got instead was a team that was outplayed in nearly every aspect of the game, but scraped by on the fleet feet and clutch hands of some promising freshmen (and, of course, a couple explosive runs by Taylor Martinez).
And don't let the score fool you—Nebraska definitely scraped by in this one. Fresno State led 17-14 at halftime, and the Cornhuskers didn't pull away until late in the fourth quarter.
Now we'll assess the good and bad of Nebraska's win and determine what to take away from the nail-biter with the Bulldogs.
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez had himself another huge day statistically, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 15 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Martinez got better as the game progressed, and his level of maturity is far beyond what it was at the end of last season, which was shown through his play later in the game despite struggling in the first half.
Another good stat was the 15 carries, down from last week's 19. While that still may be too many given the incredible amount of talent at his disposal, at least it's going in the right direction.
The 6'1", 205-pounder also showed nice accuracy on long passes for the most part and was able to keep Nebraska in the game with big plays both on the ground and through the air.
As good as Taylor Martinez was at times against Fresno State, he was the polar opposite at other times.
Martinez still does not show the ability to sustain long drives, and he's lucky his two interceptions weren't accompanied by a couple of lost fumbles, one of which he recovered himself and the other of which was recovered by a Bulldog who was ruled out of bounds on the play.
While one of his picks was on a meaningless hail mary to end the first half, his other was one of the worst passes we've seen Martinez throw since early in his freshman year.
The bottom line is, Martinez is still very inconsistent, and if defenses force the offense to methodically drive down the field, the only thing that has worked so far on offense will be lost.
Positive: Three Freshmen and Two Juniors
That is, freshmen Ameer Abdullah, Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell and juniors Rex Burkhead and Kyler Reed.
These five players stood out for Nebraska and were the difference in a very close game, along with Martinez and his explosive legs.
Turner, Bell and Reed all had long catches from Martinez that ultimately set up Husker touchdowns, while Rex Burkhead got the most out of some poor blocking, scored two touchdowns, and put the game away with some tough, impressive running on the final drive.
And then there was Abdullah. The true freshman saved the day and broke a school record in the process.
After Fresno State pulled to within 28-26, the Huskers needed a big play to steal back the momentum. A return touchdown on the ensuing kickoff would do the trick, and Abdullah delivered a 100-yarder to put the Huskers two scores ahead, 35-26.
The speedy, shifty Abdullah was threatening to take one back the whole game before busting the big one, and he finished with 211 yards on five returns, a school record.
Not bad for a kid right out of high school.
Negative: The Trenches
For as good as Rex Burkhead was on Saturday, the 5'11", 215-pounder finished with only 55 yards on 15 carries, an average of 3.7 yards per carry.
This was the result of very poor overall blocking by Nebraska's offensive line, which was a very disappointing outcome based on their expression of frustration over their performance against Chattanooga.
On the bright side, the line started to do much better in the fourth quarter, but the first three quarters were cause for great concern.
In the same light, Nebraska's defensive line play was even more shocking given it was considered to be one of the best in the nation before getting pushed around by Fresno State's less-than-impressive offensive line.
Not many people understand the role of Nebraska's defensive line, and the coaches may say they did better than it seemed, but the lack of pressure (zero sacks) and the gaping holes created between the tackles were very alarming.
To be fair, the Husker linebackers weren't filling gaps adequately either, but frankly, that shouldn't have been much of a problem against the Bulldogs.
While Nebraska looked nowhere near like a top 25 team for much of the game against Fresno State, their resiliency and ability to pull out the win still makes them deserving of a top 25 ranking—for now.
It's no secret Nebraska has a ton of work to do this week before taking on Washington, but one thing we do know is Nebraska won't quit if and when they fall behind in any game this year.
During the week leading up to Fresno State's tilt with Nebraska, sophomore quarterback Derek Carr said he wasn't worried about playing against the vaunted Blackshirts.
That confidence came across as cockiness to many, but as it turns out, he really didn't have much reason to worry. With zero sacks and zero interceptions, the defense as a whole did not have a good day, and although the lack of pressure was no help, the Huskers' coverage was nothing short of pathetic when compared to a normal Bo Pelini defense.
Nebraska's defensive backs and linebackers seemed a step slow all day, allowing Fresno State receivers to catch a lot of intermediate passes to keep long drives alive and keep the Bulldogs in the game.
The defense as a whole looked lackadaisical and disinterested from start to finish, coming up with stops only when it was absolutely necessary to preserve the win.
The secondary will get a big boost when senior cornerback Alfonzo Dennard returns to the lineup, but everyone in the back seven will have to step it up if they want to stop anyone through the air.
The game against Fresno State was an overall disappointment for the Cornhuskers, but what we can't lose sight of is the fact that a win is a win and the Huskers survived.
What they must do first and foremost to do better as the season progresses, however, is establish some intensity in the trenches and on defense in general.
The offensive line must be able to push guys off the ball and open holes (or at least cracks) for Rex Burkhead to squeeze through, and the defensive line has to fight off of their blocks and apply pressure to the opposing quarterback.
The linebackers have to do a better job plugging holes and stopping running backs for minimal gains, and they also need to provide better coverage on tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield.
The secondary needs to break up more passes rather than just making the tackle after a first down.
The Blackshirts need to start generating pressure and forcing turnovers, and they have to have a sense of urgency no matter who Nebraska's playing if they want to challenge for a Big Ten championship.
The offense must continue to generate big plays, but they also must develop the ability to sustain drives and keep the defense off of the field.
That seems like a lot to ask, but if Nebraska is a championship-caliber team, they'll get it done.