It was a emotional start, a odd first half, and a dominating second half. And Mike Riley earned career victory 100 with a slow start but promising finish.
Although that slow start hampered them, the Nebraska Cornhuskers ran for almost 300 yards, pitched a second half shutout, and defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 43-10 in front of 90k+ plus fans on a raucous night at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
With many high profile recruits on campus, the Huskers (1-0) had 51 runs of the ball out of 64 total plays and kept the Bulldogs (0-1) off the scoreboard after giving up a first half ending field goal.
After Nebraska won the coin toss, three rushes gained less than a first down. The Huskers punted away to the Bulldogs, who started their game going deep into Nebraska territory. Fresno State used misdirection and the passing game to get to the Nebraska 15, but Kody Kroenig couldn’t put points on the board, missing a 32 yard FG to the right.
Nebraska came out and ran the ball on the next drive, running the ball on 10 of the first 11 plays out of scrimmage. A mix of Terrell Newby, Devine Ozigbo, and designed keepers by Tommy Armstrong got the ball into Fresno State territory, and a nifty 11 yard stop route to Stanley Morgan on the first pass of the game helped out. Another Armstrong run, a Newby zone read, and a Armstrong sprint to the corner got the ball to the corner. Third and goal brought Devine Ozigbo into the game, and he powered into the end zone to cap a 13 play, 80 yard TD drive for the first points of the game. The Drew Brown XP made it 7-0 Nebraska.
Fresno got the ball back, but could only run one play before the end of the first quarter, which ended at 7-0 Nebraska.
The second quarter started with a 3 and out, helped by a Josh Kalu corner blitz. The Fresno punt gave the Huskers the ball at the Bulldog 38. Three Ozigbo runs got the ball to the 5 yard line, and then Ozigbo just went behind Tanner Farmer & David Knevel to make it 14-0 Huskers with 12:34 in the 2nd. The drive was all Ozigbo, going 4 plays for 38 yards.
Fresno State got the ball to start the next drive on their own 22. Nothing came from it though, as a good 3rd down stop got the ball back on the Bulldogs punt. Brady Cusick did flip the field, however, and Nebraska got their ball back on their own 31 yard line.
Nebraska got a first down, however a penalty and incomplete passes gave the Huskers 4th down. Caleb Lightbourn came into punt, but it was blocked and Fresno took over at the Nebraska 32 yard line. The Bulldogs took it inside the 10 yard line with a Chason Virgil to Aaron Peck throw on 3rd and 9. Video review confirmed the catch, giving the Bulldogs 1st and Goal, and one play later it was Virgil to Peck again for the Bulldogs TD. Peck made the catch right over true freshman Lamar Jackson. The 7 play, 32 yard drive made it 14-7 Nebraska.
True freshman Tre Bryant took the Fresno kick out to the 32 yard line on the ensuing kick. However, a penalty on a 3rd down conversion from Armstrong to Cethan Carter and a #YOLOBOMB gave the ball back to Fresno on a Lightbourn punt to the Fresno 24.
Fresno took over the ball, and it appeared that the Huskers had the 3 and out. However, a personal foul/targeting call on Luke Gifford gave the Bulldogs life. With that, Fresno State went across midfield on the reinvigorated drive. Zach Kline, who came on when Virgil got hurt on the Gifford ejection, kept picking on Jackson with Peck, getting down inside the 10 yard line again. With time running down, Kroenig hit a 36 yard FG to make it 14-10 Nebraska at the half.
Second half action started with a reviewed fumble, with Fresno keeping the ball after it appeared the returner gave it up. But, lord willing, the Nebraska D forced a three and out, making the Bulldogs punt it away. The Huskers took over at their own 42 yard line, and started with what worked before in running the ball with Newby and Ozigbo to take it across midfield. A third down toss from TA to Alonzo Moore helped gain a big 3rd down to keep the drive alive. A reverse to Jordan Westerkamp got the ball into 1st and goal. On the next play, TA took the ball around the left and, with key blocks by Alonzo Moore and Cethan Carter, got to the corner to make it 21-10 Nebraska.
Fresno State took the ball back over and got it near midfield, but a Virgil intentional grounding when Jackson came on a corner blitz didn’t help the Bulldog cause. Fresno got it back to midfield, but had to punt, putting it in a touchback.
Nebraska started the show back up on their own 20. However, the Huskers went 3 and out, giving the ball back to Fresno at midfield after a kick catch interference penalty. But, Fresno dialed up a 3 and out to themselves, giving the Huskers back the ball on their own 15 yard line. Nebraska one-up’d Fresno’s bad drive by going backwards, thanks to a Dylan Utter unsportsmanlike penalty. Caleb Lightbourn gave Nebraska a punt that put the ball out for Fresno at midfield.
Fresno tried to do something, but two penalties set them behind the sticks. Virgil made his first bad mistake of the night, throwing a high ball and having Kieron Williams get the first takeaway of the season on an interception, getting the ball to the Nebraska 43 yard line. One running play got the Huskers to end of the 3rd Quarter, leading 21-10.
The second play of that drive was a big one though, as Armstrong went play-action and nailed Alonzo Moore down the middle of the field. 2 plays, 62 yards, TD. 28-10 Nebraska.
Fresno State, with the energy of the house going against them, got the ball on the touchback but could do nothing with it, punting it away after a 3 and out. Nebraska took the ball on their own 37 yard line.
Nebraska just went left with Ozigbo to start the drive, going with some runs and a TA to Ozigbo throw to move the ball. A couple more Ozigbo runs got Nebraska inside the 5 yard line. Tommy finished off the drive with a spinning keeper around the right to make it 34-10 Nebraska. 8 plays and 63 yards on the scoring drive. A Zack Darlington 2 point conversion made it 36-10 Huskers, unsportsmanlike conduct be damned.
With the kickoff being shortened, Fresno State got good field position, and moved the ball on a few throws and a Josh Kalu facemask foul. However, nothing happened after that & the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs.
Ryker Fyfe stepped into the game for Nebraska at the 8:23 mark of the 4th Quarter. True Freshman Tre Bryant debuted in the backfield and took his first 2 carries over Left Tackle for 10+ yards each carry. A Fyfe carry broke up the Bryant carries, but the drive stalled on a Fyfe incompletion. But, a Bryant carry over the right tackle got a first down on 4th and 3. After a incompletion on 1st down, Mikale Wilbon came out of the witness protection program for a big carry, and Jordan Westerkamp got a nice catch with his own face mask call to put the ball 1st and Goal at the 3 yard line. The very next play, Tre Bryant put in his first TD run to put the Huskers up 43-10.
Fresno didn’t stop fighting though, as they got the ball back on the touchback and went down the field on mostly Nebraska backups. During the drive, Safety Aaron Williams got a targeting foul, but actual brains were engaged and the targeting was rescinded. The unsportsmanlike call, however, was not during the play. Two plays later, Chris Jones took a fade away from Aaron Peck. A couple of knees, and that’s game.
Leading the ground charge for the Huskers was Ozigbo, getting 103 yards on 17 carries. Newby added 56 and Armstrong had 43 yards. The freshman Bryant got 36 on his own too. Fresno State didn’t do well on the ground, with their leading rusher Dontel James only getting 20 yards on 12 carries. The Nebraska defense, one of the better rushing D teams from a year ago, only allowed a total of 31 yards rushing and a modest 241 yards passing.
The Huskers keep the train rolling next week with a 11am kickoff versus the Wyoming Cowboys in Lincoln.
Fresno State gets back on track next week in their home opener vs. Sacramento State.