LINCOLN, Nebraska — A Big Red crowd of 90,013 Nebraska fans didn’t faze the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday night, but a young squad couldn’t take full advantage of the hand they were dealt and fell 43-10 to the Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium.
Fresno State’s season opener didn’t get off to a great start, as Kody Kroening missed a 32-yard field goal and Nebraska responded with back-to-back touchdown drives (capped each time by sophomore Devine Ozigbo, who led the Huskers with 103 yards rushing on 17 carries). A blocked punt, however, gave Chason Virgil and the offense a short field, and the ‘Dogs answered with Aaron Peck, who hauled in a tough catch in the back of the end zone for a score.
The second quarter turned into a mixed bag, however, when Virgil was briefly knocked out after a targeting penalty against Nebraska’s Luke Gifford, with what looked like a shoulder injury. Zach Kline came off the bench and rallied the offense to another three points by going 4-of-5 for 50 yards off the bench near the end the half (7-11-110-0-1 overall). Peck, though, despite leading the ‘Dogs with nine catches and 112 yards on 16 targets, let a touchdown pass go through his hands.
They wouldn’t get any closer to pulling off an upset than they did when that moment broke against them.
Quite simply, Virgil wasn’t as effective in the second half. He was just 17-32-133-1-1, and just 6-for-18 after halftime, though his teammates on offense offered little help. Dontel James got healthy enough to see the field but had no room to run all night, finishing with just 20 yards on 12 carries. Keesean Johnson had a big pass between the hashes slip through his hands for an easy Nebraska interception. And inefficiency put them in too many long shot situations: Ten times the ‘Dogs faced at least 3rd-and-8.
After struggling to contain the running attack in the field early, Nebraska was able to largely assert its will against Fresno State’s defense in the second half, a discouraging sign for those with long memories of 2015. Tommy Armstrong didn’t have to work too hard, all things considered, with just five completions on ten attempts for 108 yards, but missed tackles were the primary reason for two easy rushing touchdowns, and a fourth quarter, 57-yard touchdown strike to Alonzo Moore came against a blown coverage by Jamal Ellis.
The Huskers racked up just 408 yards of total offense, but 183 of those came in the fourth quarter with Nebraska running away with the result. Hell, even the swinging gate worked like a charm, and the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which succeeded says this team has a lot of growing up to do.
Despite the lopsided score, though, there were some encouraging signs. Peck’s return after missing all of 2015 was a clear shot in the arm despite the glaring drops. The secondary showed flashes of making tough plays to break passes up, and Virgil hung tough in an increasingly unfavorable situation.
The hope is that these Bulldogs (0-1) look much more complete at home next Saturday against FCS Sacramento State. Nebraska (1-0) hosts Wyoming in Lincoln next week.