2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 2 - Fresno St at Nebraska
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Fresno State (0-1) at Nebraska (1-0) Sept.
10, 7:00, BTN
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Here's The Deal … It's the first time Fresno State and Nebraska have played, and for Bulldog head coach Pat Hill, this is the game he needs to have to reestablish his program as a big name, big game killer.
Fresno State always has one or two wins over BCS teams a year – Cincinnati and Illinois in 2010, Illinois in 2009, Rutgers and UCLA in 2008, Georgia Tech in 2007, and so on – and while beating Ole Miss at home in early October would be nice, after failing to California in the season opener, beating Nebraska in Lincoln could go down as Hill's biggest giant kill yet.
The Huskers are in a holding pattern for a few more weeks before the Big Ten season starts with a trip to Wisconsin on October 1st. While Nebraska beat Chattanooga last week in "its first game as a Big Ten team," it's not real yet. However, before getting to the epic showdown in Madison, the Huskers have to avoid stubbing their toe against a flawed but athletic Fresno State squad to get to the Holiday Bowl revenge game against Washington. After a layup on the road at Wyoming, then it all kicks in, but first, there can't be any lack of focus against a program that lives for these moments.
After a decent, but not dominant, 40-7 Week One win, this is when it all has to start kicking in for the Huskers. This is when they have to show that they're not only players in the Big Ten chase, but they could be in the hunt for even more. This is when the defense has to become a brick wall, and this is when the offense has to be consistently fantastic.
Why Fresno State Might Win: It's not like the Nebraska offense worked all that well in the win over Chattanooga. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead ran well, and it was an easy win, but there wasn't any semblance of a passing game with Martinez only hitting on half his passes for a mere 116 yards. There wasn't any need to open up the attack and show the rest of the world any new wrinkles, but it would've been nice to see more pop and more overall dominance. The Fresno State defense is hardly a brick wall, but it's athletic, active, and has the talent up front to get into the backfield. The key is getting to Martinez before he has a chance to read and react to the play, and if the Bulldogs can force the action, and especially if they can get pressure on him on passing downs, there's a chance to keep the Husker attack grounded.
Why Nebraska Might Win: … The Fresno State run defense isn't going to do anything special to slow down the Nebraska ground game. There will be a few big plays in the backfield, and the secondary should do a decent job, but when Martinez and Burkhead get any space to work, they'll crank out big yards. Last week against Cal might have been a preview of things to come, with mobile quarterback Zach Maynard running for 52 yards and back Isi Sofele tearing off 88 yards and two scores. The Bulldogs did a decent job of keeping the Bears from running wild, allowing just 151 yards, but they couldn't get enough third down stops and they gave up a few too many key runs. Offensively, the Fresno State running game never seemed to establish itself against Cal; Nebraska's defense is far tougher up front.
What To Watch Out For: Taylor Martinez was fine against Chattanooga, running for 136 yards and three touchdowns with a few big runs, showing off the quickness and cutting ability he lacked over the second half of last year. However, he's the season, and with no depth behind him, he needs to be on a pitch count. Head coach Bo Pelini isn't the type to baby his players in any way, but Martinez has to stay healthy and more is needed from the other runners. Eight different players ran the ball last week, but only Martinez and Burkhead ran more than four times. That has to change.
Nebraska's Jared Crick might be the best defensive lineman in the country, but Fresno State's Logan Harrell isn't far behind. The anchor of the Bulldog line did a decent job against Cal with five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss, and it'll be his job to collapse the line on a steady basis to make Martinez hurry. Crick also made five tackles last week to go along with a tackle for loss, and he'll need double-teaming, at least, but the suspect Bulldog line to get to QB Derek Carr.
What Will Happen: Nebraska will win relatively easily and should be in control all game long, but it's not going to be a dominant performance. The offense will break off a few big runs, but the passing game will still sputter and cough. Fresno State won't get anything going on the ground, and while Carr will throw for over 200 yards, he'll be held in check on third downs.
CFN Prediction: Nebraska 27 … Fresno State 10
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Nebraska -23 O/U: 50
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