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Arkansas State vs. Nebraska

Huskers hold on to win 43-26. Full story below

The Huskers hosted Arkansas State in Lincoln for their season opener on September 2nd, 2017 and faced a tough matchup from the Red Wolves throughout the night.  While the Huskers debuted a new 3-4 defense and offense from Tanner Lee both sides were not without their struggles.

The defense started strong forcing three and outs on the Red Wolves first and second drives and got support from junior quarterback Tanner Lee on his opening drive.

Tanner Lee and Tre Bryant moved the ball efficiently down the field, hitting a wide open Tyler Hoppes at the end of the drive in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown but was bobbled away.  The offense settled for a 21-yard field goal to score the first points of the game.

Things got interesting on the Huskers special teams unit after that.  The Huskers punted on their second drive and Blaise Taylor got excellent protection and took the 54-yard kick to the house after initially dropping the kick and giving the Red Wolves a 7-3 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Huskers returned the favor on the ensuing kickoff with an electric 99-yard kickoff return by redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman putting the Huskers back on top 10-7. His return was the first Husker kickoff return since Kenny Bell did it against Penn State in 2013.

Arkansas State quickly abandoned the run game for most of that half after that and instead leaned on Justice Hansen’s arm and a series of quick passes. Marching down the field on a 9 play 87-yard drive, the Red Wolves made the Huskers new 3-4 defense bleed and took a 14-10 lead back on a 29-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Murray.

Lee had his own answer on the next drive tossing a beautiful 44-yard bomb to Stanley Morgan to snatch the lead away from the charging Red Wolves taking a 17-14 lead.

The Red Wolves unable to get anything going on their next drive punted the ball back to the Huskers and the Husker offensive line made them pay opening up holes for big runs from Tre Bryant getting them into Arkansas State’s red zone.

Coach Langsdorf switched up gears in the backfield a few plays later and had Mikale Wilbon rush twice behind the right side of the line for runs of 8 and 7 yards that led to his first career touchdown as a Cornhusker. His touchdown extended the Huskers lead to 24-14 as they seemingly began to pull away.

That wasn’t the case as the defense continued to struggle as the Red Wolves ripped off 5 passes and a 14-yard rush to threaten the Huskers once more. On 2nd and goal, the Blackshirts line managed to tip the pass into the air and Tyrin Ferguson was able to bring it down for his first career interception at the 1-yard line.

Taking over at their own one-yard line, the Huskers tried to get some breathing room but an excellent blitz from Arkansas State’s linebacker Kyle Wilson resulted in a safety on Tre Bryant which closed the lead to 16-24.

After a booming 61 kick from sophomore Caleb Lightbourn, the Red Wolves picked up where they left off charging back down the field against the blackshirts. The 10 play 61-yard drive should have ended in a field goal but a mysterious roughing the passer call on Carlos Davis extended the drive within the red zone. 

Making them pay just a few plays later, quarterback Justice Hansen connected with wide receiver Blake Mack for a 3-yard touchdown pass on 3rd down to narrow the Cornhusker lead to 23-24.

Lee led the Huskers down the field again with a mixture of short and deep passes and finished a 9 play 41-yard drive with a 41-yard field goal from Drew Brown that extended the Husker lead 27-24

Like a fly that won’t relent, the Red Wolves marched down the field again with a series of quick passes that ended with a 39-yard field goal as time expired in the half. The drive was marred in controversy as Husker fans felt like the clock should have run out to end the half. It didn’t and the Red Wolves closed the Huskers lead to 27-26 heading into halftime.

(Photo by John Peterson/Icon Sportswire)

Heading out of halftime, the Huskers regrouped and put the workload squarely on Tre Bryant’s back in their opening drive. Bryant ripped off a salvo of strong runs resulting in 50 yards of rushing on that drive alone. Tyler Hoppes redeemed his earlier end zone drop with a fantastic 19-yard grab before an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the ball on the Red Wolves one yard line. Bryant then finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to pull away 34-26.

Both teams defenses stepped up from there resulting in 5 punts in 5 drives as the third quarter came to a close.

Sensing a lull in the game, senior Husker safety Josh Kalu picked off Justice Hansen at midfield. Tanner Lee took that lightning and hit JD Spielman on a 35-yard pass and then turned that into a touchdown with an 8-yard touchdown strike to De’Mornay Pierson-El.

Taking a 41-26 lead, the Blackshirts held the Red Wolves on their next drive to a field goal holding onto a 12 point lead.

Keeping Arkansas State from gaining back any momentum was huge for the Huskers as the offense stalled on its next drive.

Caleb Lightbourn then stepped up with a huge punt, downing the Red Wolves on their own 4-yard line. The Red Wolves offensive line feeling the pressure made a big mistake, holding Carlos Davis in the end zone which resulted in a safety and a 43-29 lead.

Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen went back to work firing off passes down the field and finished the drive strong with a 3-yard touchdown pass closing the Huskers lead to 36-43 and a single possession game.

Arkansas State refused to go away and recovered the ensuing onside kick. A few quick passes, and a hands to the face penalty on defensive end Alex Davis, put the Red Wolves within striking distance at the Huskers 11-yard line.

Holding strong, cornerback sophomore Lamar Jackson got his hands on what would have been a game ending interception but bounced from his hands to the turf. 

With 0:02 left on the clock, Justice Hansen rolled to his right and heaved a final pass as time expired that sailed through the end zone.

The Huskers walk away with a 43-26 win over a very talented Arkansas State and will face an equally as tough challenge next weekend as they head to Eugene, OR to take on the Oregon Ducks. 

Stats

PlayerComp/AttYardsAverageTDINTQB Rating
NEB: Tanner Lee19/3223859%20142.5
ASU: Justin Hansen46/6841567%32127.6
PlayerCarriesYardsAverageTDLong
NEB: Tre Bryant311926.2144
NEB: Mikale Wilbon2157.518
ASU: Warren Wand12695.814
PlayerReceptionsYardsAverageTDLong
NEB: Stanley Morgan, Jr.510220.4144
NEB: Tyler Hoppes34013.319
NEB: Tyjon Lindsey3144.78
NEB: JD Spielman2442235
NEB: De'Mornay Pierson-El22010112
ASU: Chris Murray99010129
ASU: Kendrick Edwards810012.5138
ASU: Christian Booker77210.317
ASU: Omar Bayless7421618
ASU: Blake Mack55010112

A member of the Football Writers Association of America, Brandon has spent over a decade reporting on and researching college football, both the sport itself and recruiting.

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