Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. ran for two touchdowns as part of a dominant ground attack and also threw for a score as the Cornhuskers beat Fresno State 43-10 on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
The Bulldogs trailed 14-0 early in the second quarter, pulled within 14-10 by halftime with the help of a blocked punt and redshirt freshman Chason Virgil’s touchdown pass to Aaron Peck but were steadily worn down on defense in front of 90,013 at Memorial Stadium.
“They’re a good football team; I think we’ve got a good football team,” said Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, who is coming off back-to-back losing seasons. “I thought our guys went toe-to-toe with them for a pretty good bit but they broke our will a little bit in that fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of our guys’ effort but it wasn’t close enough to beat a good team like Nebraska on the road in this kind of environment. Playing hard is one thing, but you’ve got to play, you know, well. You can’t turn the ball over like we did and lose the turnover battle, we needed to win that.”
Fresno State was outrushed 292-31, with Armstrong’s 9-yard run making it 21-10 with 9:59 to go in the third quarter. Armstrong found Alonzo Moore on a 57-yard touchdown connection to open the fourth quarter, then the quarterback ran 4 yards with 9:50 to play and Zack Darlington tacked on a 2-point conversion run.
Tre Bryant capped the scoring with a 3-yard run with 4:20 remaining on a night the Cornhuskers averaged 5.7 yards per rush.
Fresno State averaged 1.2 yards per run. Dontel James ran 12 times for 20 yards.
“Bottom line was, they were able to run the football against us, particularly late,” DeRuyter said. “We got a little bit discouraged in that fourth quarter.”
The Bulldogs started a pair of third-quarter drives just inside the Nebraska side of the 50, but one ended in a three-and-out and the other on a Kieron Williams interception when receiver KeeSean Johnson bobbled what could have been a first-down catch.
A pair of Devine Ozigbo touchdown runs opened the scoring, before a Bulldogs special-teams play briefly switched the momentum.
Robert Stanley, a junior inside linebacker, came up with the block as the Cornhuskers faced fourth-and-17 from their 47. Stanley also recovered the ball and returned it 15 yards to the Nebraska 32. From there, Virgil and the Bulldogs needed seven plays to cut their deficit to 14-7 with 5:38 to go in the second quarter.
Fresno State’s Kody Kroening, after missing a first-quarter attempt, added a 26-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
Virgil was sent to the sideline on that drive after a hit ruled as a targeting penalty and ejection on Nebraska sophomore linebacker Luke Gifford. Zach Kline, the graduate transfer from Cal, came on and the drive stalled after the Bulldogs had a first-and-goal at the 9. The big play was a Kline-to-Peck pass for 25 yards.
Virgil remained on the sideline, was checked out by the training staff and could be seen waving his left arm around to help gauge the extent of any potential injury. But he returned to start the second half and finished 17 of 32 for 133 yards.
“Our doctors cleared him,” DeRuyter said. “Chason said he was fine. He plays unlike a redshirt freshman. He’s got unusual poise. He got us into the right plays most of the time, made the right reads.”
Kline (7 of 11, 110 yards) came back on for the Bulldogs’ final series. He moved the Bulldogs to the Nebraska 4 but his final pass was intercepted by Chris Jones and the Cornhuskers ran out the clock.
Peck, who missed all of last season because of injury, finished with nine catches for 112 yards.
“I thought Aaron really stepped up today and it was a comfort for Chason,” DeRuyter said. “He did a good job finding him.”
The Bulldogs converted 5 of 14 third-down plays. Nebraska was 5 for 11.
Ozigbo capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 43 seconds to play in the first quarter. He scored from 6 yards out with 12:34 left in the half.
The Bulldogs had a chance to break on top, but Kroening misfired from 32 yards on their opening drive after Nebraska began the game by going three and out. Virgil, who played in three games with one start last year before a season-ending shoulder injury, was 5 for 5 for 44 yards until throwing behind Justin Allen on third down.
Fresno State suffered a blow to its receiving corps before the game began, with senior Da’Mari Scott suspended for the opener.
“Due to NCAA eligibility issues, Fresno State senior wide receiver Da'Mari Scott will not compete in Saturday's contest at Nebraska,” the athletic department said in a statement issued about 30 minutes before kickoff. “This will be Fresno State's only comment on the matter.”
Scott last season played in 11 of 12 games with nine starts and ranked second on the team with 364 receiving yards on 24 catches.
FRESNO STATE VS. SACRAMENTO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 0-1, Hornets 0-1
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: Sacramento opened with a 38-30 home loss to Western Oregon, with Hornets sophomore Nate Ketteringham throwing three touchdown passes but also two interceptions.
Nebraska 43, Fresno State 10
NEB — Ozigbo 1 run, (Brown kick), 00:56.
NEB — Ozigbo 6 run, (Brown kick), 12:39.
FRE — Peck 7 yd pass from Virgil, (Kroening kick), 05:44.
FRE — FG Kroening 26, 00:02.
NEB — Armstrong 9 run, (Brown kick), 7:07.
NEB — Moore 57 yd pass from Armstrong, (Brown kick), 15:00.
NEB — Armstrong 4 run, (Darlington run), 09:57.
NEB — Bryant 3 run, (Lindsay kick), 04:20.
Time of Possession
RUSHING — Fresno State, James 12-20, Kline 1-11, Green 1-3, Jordan 1-1, O’Neal 4-0, Johnson 1-(minus 1), Virgil 6-(minus 3). Nebraska, Ozigbo 17-103, Newby 11-56, Armstrong 11-42, Bryant 5-36, Moore 2-34, Wilbon 1-16, Westerkamp 1-9, Fyfe 1-5, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Pierson-El 1-(minus 7).
PASSING — Fresno State, Kline 7-11-1-110, Virgil 17-32-1-133. Nebraska, Armstrong 5-10-0-108, Fyfe 1-3-0-6.
RECEIVING — Fresno State, Peck 9-112, Johnson 8-61, Jordan 5-52, Olsen 2-18. Nebraska, Moore 3-92, Morgan 1-11, Westerkamp 1-6, Ozigbo 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Fresno State, Kroening 32.