Lincoln, NE (Sports Network) - The 22nd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers will collide with the Arkansas State Red Wolves for the first time ever when the two schools take the field this Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
The Red Wolves steam rolled through their season opening matchup against Mississippi Valley State, posting a 61-0 victory over the Delta Devils. Usually the Red Wolves have trouble against teams currently in the Big 12, but coach Steve Roberts' squad snapped a 15-game slide last season with an 18-14 win over Texas A&M. Arkansas State will be off next week before opening its conference schedule against Troy.
As for the Cornhuskers, they won their 24th consecutive season-opener by dismantling Florida Atlantic, 49-3. It was the largest margin of victory for Nebraska in an opener since pummeling North Texas 76-14 back in 1993. After defeating FAU the Cornhuskers are now 7-0 against teams currently residing in the Sun Belt Conference.
Arkansas State opened the year firing on all cylinders, racking up 496 total yards en route to a 61-point performance. The majority of the team's success came on the ground, as the Red Wolves terrorized MVSU for 358 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 6.8 yards per tote. Reggie Arnold, who led the team in 2008 with 1,074 yards and seven scores, exploded in the opener, rumbling for 128 yards and four touchdowns. Don Jones added 84 yards and one touchdown, while Derek Lawson tallied 76 yards and one score on 12 carries. Considering how impressive the ground game was, quarterback Corey Leonard did not need to use his arm that much, and finished the game with just 129 yards and one touchdown on 8-of-13 passing. However, despite the light work load, the senior quarterback became the all-time yardage leader at Arkansas State with 7,433 yards.
The ASU defense was just as impressive in the victory, as the Red Wolves collected their first shutout since 2005. The Red Wolves completely shut down the Delta Devils, limiting MVSU to just 69 total yards, including a mere 30 rushing yards on 1.1 yards per attempt. Arkansas State put an enormous amount of pressure on the Delta Devils, forcing two turnovers, while also collecting four sacks. ASU also did not allow Mississippi Valley State to convert on any of its 12 third down attempts. Javon McKinnon led the way with five tackles and also forced a fumble, while Bryan Hall added four stops and 1.5 sacks.
Last year the Cornhuskers used a very balanced attack on offense, and it was more of the same in the opener against FAU, as the Huskers tallied 490 total yards in the 49-3 victory. The rushing attack was outstanding, as Nebraska punished the Owls for 259 yards on a whopping 8.1 yards per carry. Roy Helu Jr, who led the way for the Huskers with 803 yards in 2008, exploded against FAU, rumbling for 152 yards and three scores on just 16 totes. Backup quarterback Cody Green added 50 yards and one score in the win, while Rex Burkhead tallied 39 yards and one TD.
As for the starting signal caller, Zac Lee, he was very solid in his debut under center, completing 15-of-22 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
"I thought he played the way he's been practicing. I thought he played outstanding" said Bo Pelini. "He made good decisions. You can see how confident he is and he carries himself the right way. He leads this football team and leads that offense. I liked what I saw from him."
The NU defense got the job done in the opener as well, as the Cornhuskers punished Florida Atlantic for 60 minutes. Nebraska did allow 358 total yards in the contest, but held FAU to just 122 rushing yards on 3.5 ypc. Nebraska forced three turnovers in the win, but oddly enough the team was unable to pressure the quarterback and finished the game with zero sacks.
"I saw some good things out there and I saw some things I was disappointed with," said coach Pelini. "It's just kind of the same with the whole football team. There were some positives and there are some things we need to get fixed and that's to be expected the first game."
Rickey Thenarse led the way in the win with eight tackles, one TFL and also forced one fumble. All-American candidate Ndamukong Suh, who is one of the top tackles in the country, also had a strong showing, posting seven stops and one TFL.
The Red Wolves were outstanding against MVSU and Pelini knows this will be a tough game.
"They're a pretty talented football team, very well coached. They are very sound on what they do on both sides of the football. It's well thought out and they have good athletes. It's a challenge."