After playing two quarterbacks in their first two games, switching quarter by quarter, the Fresno State Bulldogs appeared they might switch starters this week and go to Brandon Connette.
Coming off the bench at USC and at Utah, he had provided a struggling offense with a bit of a spark, leading touchdown drives on his first series against the Trojans and on his third against the Utes. But he also exited that loss at Utah with an injury to his right hand and that ultimately kept him on the sideline Saturday in a 55-19 loss to Nebraska in the Bulldogs' home opener.
Junior Brian Burrell started a third consecutive game.
"Brian had a good week of practice and Brandon was injured, took very limited team snaps this week in practice," coach Tim DeRuyter said. "He was going to play in an emergency situation, but we weren't going to put him in harm's way if we didn't have to. I think he'll be fine this week, but he wasn't ready to go 100% (Saturday)."
Connette had practiced during the week — by midweek he was in individual drills and throwing in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 periods. But the staff did not believe he had taken enough team reps working the game plan with the No. 1 or No. 2 offenses to start against the Cornhuskers.
DeRuyter said the graduate-transfer from Duke was doubtful to play, and he did not.
Burrell took every snap and while the Bulldogs put together some solid series, they did not get into the end zone until 4:42 remained in the third quarter when the quarterback pulled the ball from the running back on a zone-read play and ran 66 yards into the end zone.
"Overall, they were pretty disciplined. They would seal the edge and they wouldn't chase the back, for the most part," Burrell said of the Cornhuskers. "So on that one, I just read it and him and the linebacker both followed both pullers and Dillon Root made a great block."
Fresno State to that point had advanced to the Nebraska 13 in the first quarter only to miss a 30-yard field goal attempt, coming up empty on a nine-play, 54-yard drive.
The Bulldogs got down to the Cornhuskers 5 in the second quarter, only to stall and settle for a 27-yard field goal, getting only three points from a 14-play, 63-yard drive. On first-and-goal, Burrell missed on a late throw to Josh Harper in the corner of the end zone. On second-and-goal, he hit running back Juice Quezada in the flat and he was buried there for a 5-yard loss by cornerback Byerson Cockrell. And on third-and-goal, Burrell under pressure misfired on a pass play.
"We moved the ball," Burrell said, when asked for positives. "We didn't finish off drives, which hurt us. But we kept the defense off the field, which we hadn't been doing the first couple of games. We moved the ball pretty well, against a good defense."
Fresno State did not generate much in the third quarter, aside from the long touchdown run by Burrell. The Bulldogs gained 78 yards, 66 on that one play and 12 yards on their other 15 plays. Nebraska had no such issues, scoring touchdowns on drives of 75 and 98 yards, the latter taking only four plays. "I was disappointed in the way we played in the third quarter because I still thought we had a chance to come back in that football game," DeRuyter said. "But they made the plays and we didn't."
Burrell ended up throwing a career-high 59 passes, completing 30 for 241 yards. And, as in losses at USC and at Utah, the offense struggled through a lot of breakdowns.
"I thought Brian continues to compete well," DeRuyter said. "I think he did a great job on the read zone where he pulled it and scored. He's feeling more and more comfortable in our offense, but clearly there are some reads that he missed that he knows he has to get better at. And for us to be a good offense, we've got to be clean in all of those and we have to protect him better to make it easier on him."
Both quarterbacks are expected to be in practice this week, as the Bulldogs prepare for a game against Southern Utah, a championship subdivision program.
"I know he'll try to practice," DeRuyter said of Connette. "From what I understand talking to our trainers, I think he'll be closer to being full this week. Especially when you're new, you can't miss a week's worth of practice in team and expect him to go out and play competitively."