Laramie, WY – Hitting the road for the first time this ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers make their way to Laramie this conference action at War Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers are off to a strong start with three wins in as many games, scoring at least 40 points in every outing, although their defense has gotten progressively more generous as well. The team started out the campaign with a 40-7 romp over Chattanooga and then took down Fresno State (42-29) before topping Washington (51-38) last weekend.
As for the Cowboys, they are 3-0 for the first time since the 1996 campaign when they went on to post 10 victories in 12 opportunities. Wyoming hasn't exactly been lining up against marquee opponents, but getting off to a fast start is still the ultimate goal. Last week, the team nearly let one slip away in Ohio before a blocked PAT in the waning moments preserved a 28-27 win over the Bowling Green Falcons.
Nebraska has taken all five of the previous meetings between the two programs, the most recent of those matchups took place back in 1994 with the Huskers slipping by with a 42-32 triumph.
Nebraska scored double-digit points in every quarter last Saturday against the Huskies, the team rolling up 420 yards of total offense as Taylor Martinez converted 10-of-21 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns and running back Rex Burkhead added a team-best 120 yards and another two scores on 22 rushing attempts.
But as well as the offense may have performed, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini knows full well that there are still improvements to be made that can potentially make this program a serious contender come the postseason.
"It was a good win. A good win for our football team, and I'm excited about being 3-0. I just told this team, the beautiful part about it is there's a lot more out there for us. We can get a lot better in every phase. I'm seeing some progress, we just need a little bit more consistency."
From a defensive standpoint, the Huskers had some issues stopping the Washington passing attack, allowing 274 yards and four TDs through the air, yet Nebraska still ended up with a pair of sacks and a couple of interceptions to slow down Washington's attack.
Daimion Stafford finished with a team-best nine tackles, while Jared Crick logged six stops and one of the two sacks for the program.
Getting adequate pressure at the line of scrimmage and further up the field has been somewhat of an issue for the Cornhuskers in the early going thus far, the team averaging just 4.3 tackles for loss per game to rank ninth in the Big Ten Conference and 96th nationally. The squad has posted a mediocre 1.67 sacks per game which is rather poor given the first two opponents of the season.
Martinez is the lynchpin for the offense, but not so much as a passer with just 163.3 ypg and 48.4 percent completions for three touchdowns in as many outings. Martinez, and now Burkhead, are the ones who make big plays happen further down the field after pounding away at the line of scrimmage for a combined 634 yards rushing and 11 TDs already. However, the key for Martinez is to remember to keep his receivers involved in the offense in order to make everyone happy.
Even though the Wyoming defense allowed Bowling Green signal-caller Matt Schilz to record the first game of his career with more than 300 yards passing, he finished with 437 yards, the rest of the Cowboys were there to pick up the pieces when it counted the most, specifically as Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns blocked the potential game-tying PAT with under three seconds remaining in regulation.
BGSU ended up generating 514 yards of total offense against the Pokes, yet the visitors still kept their poise when it counted the most and pulled off their third win in as many games to kick off the campaign. Biezuns finished with two sacks, a forced fumble and one recovery for a defensive unit that gained six turnovers. Blair Burns contributed with one fumble recovery and a pair of interceptions, while Marqueston Huff was credited with a touchdown following his fumble recovery in the battle.
Offensively it was Brett Smith who kept the visitors close with his 25-of-38 for 267 yards and a score, while both Alvester Alexander and Ghaali Muhammad each tallied a rushing score for the unit as well.
Even though the Cowboys tend to spread the wealth, the rushing attack is generating a lofty 226.7 ypg, second-best in the Mountain West Conference and 20th in the nation at the moment. Because the Pokes use several different options when it comes to carrying the ball the team is able to keep running backs fresh and substitute liberally.
The pass defense in the early going has been somewhat suspect for the Cowboys, giving up 287.7 ypg, but against the Cornhuskers that might not even be a factor. Instead, the defensive line will have to come out fully charged for Wyoming in order to try and slow down Martinez and Co. as they continually pound away at the line of scrimmage, seeking holes that they can exploit and expose for bigger and bigger gains on the ground.
"I think it's hard to stop, and if the defense can stop it then we have other plays to run," Martinez says about his team's offensive approach. "If the defense is going to prepare for the option game we have more stuff to run, that way they have to prepare for everything."