#10 Nebraska 42
Fresno State 29

Sept. 10, 2011 • Memorial Stadium, Lincoln

1 2 3 4 T
Fresno State 14 3 3 9 29
Nebraska 7 7 7 21 42

Breaking free: Huskers rally to take 2-0 record into Washington game

Ameer Abdullah put Nebraska up by two scores with this 100-yard kickoff return that made it 35-26 with 11:50 to go. He finished with a school-record 211 kickoff return yards. MARK DAVIS/THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — Two games into a season of supposed fresh programming, Nebraska’s football team appeared ready to air a rerun from 2010.

A confused offense too reliant on Taylor Martinez. Harrowing fumbles and circus-like turnovers. Porous coverage units. A defense suddenly quite vulnerable to Fresno State’s pro-style offense.

So Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck gathered his unit at halftime, made adjustments and gave players a simple message.

“Make plays,” redshirt freshman receiver Kenny Bell recalled Beck saying, “and we’ll win this ballgame.”

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Martinez and Nebraska’s offense broke free of a bust cycle with several big plays, flipped the usual script by bailing out a gassed, confused defense, and got a giant cameo from freshman running back Ameer Abdullah.

His fourth-quarter, zig-zag 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the signature play in a 42-29 win over the Bulldogs, noted BCS giant slayers who nearly took home another pelt to California.

With 12 minutes left and NU leading 28-26, Abdullah caught the ball at his goal line, veered right, eluded two tacklers and broke free at midfield. He began to cramp up at the FSU 45, had to avoid kicker Kevin Goessling inside the 15, and collapsed into the end zone, exhausted.

“It was a turning point of the game,” the humble Abdullah had to admit. “It was huge.”

The 85,101 fans at Memorial Stadium — who had heard so much about Abdullah over the summer — roared at seeing the Homewood, Ala., native live up to the hype. He finished the night with a school-record 211 kickoff return yards.

“He did a helluva job,” head coach Bo Pelini said.

Only Martinez had more gaudy numbers, amassing 385 total yards and three total touchdowns. He busted off runs of 53, 46 and 38 yards. Against Fresno’s go-for-broke blitz, he completed passes of 53, 43 and 42 yards to Kyler Reed, Jamal Turner and Bell, respectively. All three blew past coverage, then adjusted nicely to passes thrown by Martinez with too much loft.

“He was 10-of-21 and had two interceptions, but gosh dang, he threw up some long balls that they hit on,” Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. “That was the difference in the game, a few big plays.”

Coupled with his two interceptions, multiple fumbles and other gaffes, it mirrored Martinez’s 2010 play before the Missouri game injury. Inconsistent. Eruptive. Occasionally stupendous.

Pelini said he still wants Martinez to clean up his mistakes. But ...

“A lot of people would take what he did tonight throwing and running,” Pelini said. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”

For the night, Nebraska racked up 438 yards on just 56 plays. Why so few? Fresno State’s offense chewed up 37:12 of the game clock, ran 23 more plays and jammed a power game down the Huskers’ throat.

Initially quarterback Derek Carr — who finished with 254 passing yards — carved up NU’s secondary to stake Fresno to a 17-14 halftime lead. But in the second half, it was running back Robbie Rouse (169 rushing yards) who melted Blackshirt butter, knifing into gaping holes in NU’s front seven — or six, as the Huskers often chose to protect against Carr’s big right arm.

“They studied up on us pretty good,” linebacker Will Compton said.

“We had some busts,” linebacker Lavonte David said.

“It just happens,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “The wheels start coming off. Your guys panic a little bit and you’ve just got to coach them through it.”

But Compton — who tied David with 15 tackles — was quick to add that the Huskers “fought our butts off.” Indeed, NU forced seven punts and held the Bulldogs to three field goals on drives where touchdowns seemed in the offing. The last of kicker Kevin Goessling’s three-pointers cut Nebraska’s lead to 35-29 with 5:24 left.

Nebraska iced the game with a final, definitive explosive play. On third-and-three from Fresno’s 46-yard line, Beck dialed up a short-side option. Martinez found a crease, bolted through it, and coasted to the end zone.

That call was indicative, Bo Pelini said, of Beck’s “phenomenal” performance in the second half.

For his part, Beck expected Fresno’s defense to try to gamble, stunt, twist and bamboozle its way to an upset. For a half, it worked.

“But they gave up a lot of big plays when you watch them on film,” Beck said. So he drew up a plan to “hurt ’em” in the second half.

It worked. The Huskers ran just 25 plays in the third and fourth quarters. They gained 222 yards. And that’s not counting Abdullah’s 100-yard bolt into the warm Nebraska night.

“The offense answered the bell in the second half,” Bo Pelini said. “They played really good football. We showed how explosive we can be.”

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More coverage

World-Herald post-game coverage (PDF)

Box score (PDF)

Game stats

Opp NU
Penalties-Yards 3-25
Rush yards 190 219
Rush attempts 40 35
Yards per carry 4.8 6.3
Pass yards 254 219
Comp.-Att.-Int. 20-41-0 10-21-2
Yards/Att. 6.2 10.4
Yards/Comp. 12.7 21.9
Fumbles 1 0

Series history

Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against Fresno State.

See all games »

2011 season (9-4)

Chattanooga Sept. 3
Fresno State Sept. 10
Washington Sept. 17
Wyoming Sept. 24
Wisconsin Oct. 1
Ohio State Oct. 8
Minnesota Oct. 22
Michigan State Oct. 29
Northwestern Nov. 5
Penn State Nov. 12
Michigan Nov. 19
Iowa Nov. 25
South Carolina Jan. 2

This day in history

Nebraska has played 7 games on Sept. 10. See them all »

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