The 10th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers get their conference action at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska, which is now operating as a member of the Big Ten Conference since moving over from the Big 12, squashed the Mocs of Tennessee-Chattanooga on Saturday in Lincoln by a score of 40-7 in front of an NCAA-record 312th consecutive sellout. The victory snapped a two-game slide that closed out the 2010 campaign for the Huskers, defeats versus Oklahoma (23-20) in the Big 12 title game and a 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl. Overall, Nebraska extended its season-opening win streak to 26 games in a row, dating back to 1986.
As for the Bulldogs, a program that has never made abundantly clear that it is willing to take on any challengers at anytime, they were tossed around by California during the first week of action, bowing to the Bears in a 36-21 decision on the road. This weekend Fresno State and head coach Pat Hill are fighting against history as only one program from the Western Athletic Conference (Arizona State, 1975) has ever defeated Nebraska.
In this first-ever meeting between the two programs, the Bulldogs are aiming to capture their eighth win in the last 12 opportunities against schools from the BCS.
The passing attack for the Bulldogs in 2010 was middle of the road, averaging about 220 ypg, but installing a new starter at the quarterback position this year means there's bound to be some growing pains and Derek Carr demonstrated that with his 21-of-33 effort for a mere 142 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Carr, the younger brother of former FSU starter and top NFL pick David Carr, had his choice of seven different receivers, the top two being Devon Wylie and Rashad Evans who both reeled in five catches.
"Nothing surprised me today. I knew they were going to come out and try and hit me," Carr said after the game. "We wish we could have done more. We competed, we tried our best and they are just a good defense."
Running back Robbie Rouse will hopefully take some of the pressure off Carr in the early going, but in the opener he gained just 86 yards and scored once on 17 attempts as the Bulldogs averaged only 4.3 yards per carry.
Fresno State's defense was shaken up in the first half by the Bears as the hosts generated 314 yards and squeezed out 19 points through the first 30 minutes of action. Luckily the Bulldogs calmed down and clamped down, holding the hosts to just 103 yards after the break and a mere 17 yards in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, most of the damage had already been done and FSU was unable to fight all the way back.
The squad came away with seven tackles for loss, bettering their average from a year ago which stood at almost six and a half TFLs per contest. The Bulldogs posted a pair of sacks, one each by Logan Harrell and Donavon Lewis. In 2010 FSU was one of the best in the business when it came to taking down the opposing quarterback, placing ninth in the nation with an average of 2.85 sacks per outing.
While the Bulldogs were breaking in their new quarterback, Nebraska was trying to squeeze production out of Taylor Martinez who converted 11-of-22 passes for 116 yards in the opener. More importantly, Martinez led the way on the ground for the Huskers with his 135 yards and three TDs in the win over the Mocs.
Despite the overall production of Martinez, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini still sees his signal-caller getting better as the season wears on.
"I thought he was up and down. I thought early in the game, Taylor was very anxious. He was really putting a lot of pressure on himself. I thought he was anxious. I thought, as the game went on, he let the game come to him, and that's when he becomes a better football player. I thought overall he had a pretty good first start. He didn't get a lot of help around him at times...but I think overall, not a bad day."
Last season Martinez had five games with more than 100 yards rushing, scoring a total of 12 touchdowns on the ground, while his passing plays resulted in only 10 TDs and seven picks. Clearly the quarterback is more adept at using his legs than he is his arm, at least from a stats standpoint.
The offensive line of the Huskers did have some issues, specifically allowing 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Nebraska defense had similar success, producing 11 TFLs, but that should be expected given the nature of the two programs.
Cameron Meredith stepped up and recorded two of his three stops against the opposing quarterback, adding an interception as well for the Nebraska defense, a unit that ranked fifth in the country in pass defense a year ago with just 153.6 ypg allowed.
"From my vantage point, I think we played really well up front," noted Pelini of his defensive line. "We played a lot of guys, we're deep in that area and that's going to help us. We'll be able to keep guys fresh. Believe me, I can tell you this: we weren't perfect."