Can one of college football’s biggest little guys possibly make a lasting impression upon the Children of the Corn? It all sounds like a children’s fantasy book, but it’s actually quite real… grimly real for the WAC team that’s about to venture into the ballpark, that, when filled, is the third-largest population center in the state of Nebraska.
Yes, the 10 th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers will face the Fresno State Bulldogs this Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Last week, Nebraska dominated an overmatched Chattanooga squad, taking a 23-0 halftime lead on the way to a 40-7 blowout. Quarterback Taylor Martinez ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns and completed 11 of 22 passes for 116 yards. The Huskers’ new offense is built around the athletic sophomore, and he put on an electrifying show. Tailback Rex Burkhead carried 11 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. Nebraska has yet to demonstrate that it can be especially effective through the air – Martinez should have been able to do a lot better than a 50 percent completion rate against an inferior and decidedly ragtag defense from a Football Championship Subdivision school. However, the query this week as Fresno State comes to Lincoln is this: Can the Bulldogs be tough enough and resilient enough to force Nebraska to throw the ball in the first place?
Fresno State struggled on both sides of the ball last week in a 36-21 loss to California at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Cal outgained the Bulldogs 413-210. The Bulldogs took an early 7-0 lead on Robbie Rouse’s nine-yard touchdown run, but would not score another offensive touchdown until Josh Harper’s seven-yard reception with 3:29 left in the game. Rouse led the Bulldogs with 86 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Derek Carr, a first-year starter and the younger brother of former Fresno State great David Carr, completed 21 of 33 passes for 142 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted once.
Fresno State was just 2-for-14 on third down last week, though, a searing indictment of the program’s bona fides. Fresno State is one of the sport’s “biggest little guys,” as mentioned above, because it plays in a downmarket conference but is always scheduling the toughest of the tough in the realm of non-conference competition. The program and coach Pat Hill always want to take on the very best – that’s what the Bulldogs are doing this weekend – but Fresno rarely if ever wins these kinds of games and then muddles through a markedly unsuccessful WAC season. Fresno State has to change this pattern and show that it can haul in conference championships. Then, this little guy can be considered an adult in the college football world.
To further underscore Fresno’s awful opener against Cal, the Bulldogs’ defense had an awful first half in the face of the Golden Bears’ offense, allowing 314 yards through the first two quarters. If Fresno can’t summon up an extra degree of muscle, Nebraska can pound the ball between the tackles and eschew the forward pass. It’s a gut check for a WAC team that wants to move upward in the college football pecking order.