Fresno State faces Nebraska in home opener
Nine months after celebrating a Mountain West championship in their final home game of 2013, Fresno State returns to Bulldog Stadium with little to feel good about.
The post-Derek Carr era has gotten off to a rough start with lopsided road losses to powerhouse Southern California and fellow Pac-12 team Utah. Things don't figure to get much easier in the home opener Saturday night when the Bulldogs (0-2) host another national power in Nebraska (2-0).
''You get punched in the nose twice, you have to respond,'' Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. ''Last year, we didn't have a whole lot of adversity.''
The Bulldogs have allowed the most points in the nation through two weeks (111), having lost 52-13 to USC and 59-27 to Utah.
The Cornhuskers faced their own kind of test last week when McNeese State of the lower-division FCS played Nebraska to a tie until the final minute of a 31-24 loss.
That dropped Nebraska from No. 19 in the Associated Press poll to unranked. Since the AP poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989, no team ranked as high had ever dropped out after a win.
''I think our guys will respond very well,'' coach Bo Pelini said. ''I'm not worried about what's happened to Fresno, what their record is or how they've played. Our challenge is to play and execute at a high level. Our focus is on us. On the way we'll get ready for Fresno.''
Here are some things to watch when the Bulldogs host the Cornhuskers:
QB SHUFFLE: After three straight years of stellar quarterback play from Carr, the Bulldogs are struggling to find a signal caller this season. Brian Burrell and Duke transfer Brandon Connette have shared the duties with little success, combining to complete 55 percent of their passes with four interceptions and three touchdowns. DeRuyter said he will evaluate the quarterbacks again this week and decide whether Burrell will remain the starter.
''We're not down on Brian but clearly he has to play better and lead our offense better,'' he said. ''We have to start the game better than we did the past two weeks.''
POTENT PASSING: Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been an inconsistent thrower so far, completing just 51.7 percent of his passes against Florida Atlanta and McNeese State. Facing Fresno State's pass defense could improve those numbers. The Bulldogs have allowed the third most yards per attempt (10.18) in the nation and have given up 10 TD passes with no interceptions.
''We need to execute to put points on the board,'' Armstrong said. ''It's going to be a long trip back if we don't play how we're supposed to play. We are on a mission.''
ABSENT ABDULLAH: Nebraska star running back Ameer Abdullah went missing for much of the second half of last week's win against McNeese State. He had 17 carries for 54 yards and touched the ball just once in the fourth quarter before his electrifying 58-yard catch and run that provided the winning score with 20 seconds left.
''At the end of the day, he's our best football player,'' Pelini said. ''We have to make sure to get the ball in his hands.''
HOME COOKING: The Bulldogs are 13-0 at home in two seasons under DeRuyter, the longest home winning streak in the nation. But Nebraska will be by far their toughest opponent in that span.
''It's going to be a pretty crazy environment out there and they'll be pretty hyped up,'' Pelini said. ''But we've got pretty good success on the road. I think our guys will respond very well.''
GREGORY THE GREAT: Nebraska should get a big boost defensively this week with the return of star defensive end Randy Gregory. The Big Ten leader in sacks last season left the opener against Florida Atlantic after the first defensive series and sat out last week after getting scar tissue removed from his knee.
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Nebraska, contributed to this report