Before this game, the Fresno State Bulldogs hadn’t lost the first two games of a college football season since 2000 – now the Nebraska Cornhuskers know why.
Coming off as unconvincing a 33-point victory as you’ll ever see, the Huskers didn’t exactly ease concerns during Saturday's victory, sputtering along for most of the first half before one last explosion to end the game. The final score of 42-29, though, doesn’t indicate how close the game truly was.
It was more of the same for Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who was absolutely dazzling with his feet -- but annoyingly unproductive with his arm for much of the day. All in all, the biggest dual-threat on the field ran for 166 yards and two scores on 15 carries, all the while going 10-21 for 219 yards through the air. Granted, Martinez did end up throwing for a touchdown, but he balanced out that productiveness with two interceptions.
On numerous occasions, Martinez was forced to run when he easily could’ve created additional time for himself to throw, seemingly because of a lack of confidence in his ability to deliver the ball on point. Two turnovers did nothing to calm his nerves, mind you. Furthermore, while he did make up for his early game misreads and sloppiness with some notable deep passes late, two consecutive inconsistent passing efforts from Martinez against two marginal teams is anything but comforting at this point.
The hero of the game, however, may very well have been one of the team’s highly touted young gun running backs. No, not the one who suggested that Nebraska should put 60 points per game on offense, although after back-to-back forty-point games that goal doesn’t seem particularly outlandish. Rather, it was Ameer Abdullah, who returned a kickoff 100 yards to put the game back out of reach in the fourth quarter, after Fresno State made it a two point game.
Meanwhile, the team’s actual starting running back, Rex Burkhead, once again showed an undeniable inability to run between the tackles. He may have finished the game with two scores (one big one), but that 55 yards for the day is a telling stat of unevenness.
You have to give up to the Bulldogs, though, who were massive underdogs coming into the game. The Pat Hill-led bunch lived up to their hard-nosed billing, refusing to quit after seemingly every attempt by the Huskers to break the game open a bit. Quarterback Derek Carr went 20-41 on the day, throwing for 256 yards and one touchdown. Running back Robbie Rouse did his part in the almost-upset as well, racking up 169 yards on a whopping 36 carries.
The most perturbing story line of the game might have been the ineffectiveness of the Nebraska defense, which has traditionally been regarded one the best in the country. Against both the pass and the run, the Huskers defensive line seemingly had no response for a largely average offensive line from Fresno State. Rouse appeared to be running through massive holes all game long, and Carr was allowed to stand upright and pass all over the field for essentially the entire outing. Whereas the offense struggled in the first half but finally got it together by game’s end, the defense seemed equally miffed from start to finish.
This was not a good game for Nebraska, any way you want to cut it. Coming off an effort against Chattanooga that was anything but dominating, Bo Pelini’s group simply opened themselves up to even more scrutiny with this half-hearted effort.
Buckle in, Husker Nation – this is going to be a long week.