De'Mornay Pierson-El uncorked an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Big Red Unleash Big Plays, Beat Bulldogs

By NU Athletic Communications

Fresno, Calif. - Nebraska scored on four plays of 55 or more yards and never looked back, as the No. 21 Huskers rolled to a 55-19 win late Saturday night.

Nebraska improved to 3-0 with its first road victory of the season while snapping Fresno State's 13-game home winning streak, which was the second-longest home streak in the nation. Playing in front of thousands of Husker fans on a 99-degree night in Fresno and a CBS Sports Net television audience, the Husker attack racked up 562 yards of total offense, including 280 rushing and 282 passing. NU got 178 more yards in the return game, including 140 yards on six punt returns. 

The Blackshirts held the Bulldogs to 346 total yards, including just 105 on the ground and 241 yards on 59 passing attempts.

The Huskers got big nights from senior I-back Ameer Abdullah, sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., wide receivers Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp and freshman punt returner De'Mornay Pierson-El.

Abdullah, a Heisman Trophy and All-America candidate from Homewood, Ala., notched his 19th career 100-yard rushing game with 19 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. Abdullah increased his career rushing total to 3,373 yards in the No. 5 spot on the Nebraska all-time list. He passed Rex Burkhead (3,329) and pulled within 31 yards of Roy Helu (3,404) and 61 yards of Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch (3,434).

Abdullah did pass 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier on Nebraska's career all-purpose yardage list. Abdullah closed the night with 5,449 career yards, nudging past Rozier's 5,445 in the No. 2 spot on the Husker all-time list. Abdullah needs just 141 yards to catch Husker Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers (5,586) on the Husker career chart.

Bell and Westerkamp both produced 80-yard receiving games, as Bell pulled down a team-high five catches for 84 yards and Westerkamp added two catches for 85 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Lane Hovey also had a solid receiving night for NU, hauling in three catches for 48 yards, and all three of his receptions went for first downs.

Armstrong completed 12-of-21 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 65 yards rushing on nine carries. Armstrong finished with 325 yards of total offense, pushing his yardage total over 1,000 already this season.

Freshman punt returner De'Mornay Pierson-El added a huge night for the Big Red, returning five punts for 150 yards, including an electric 86-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter.

The Huskers wrote the storyline early, as Armstrong connected with Jordan Westerkamp for a 70-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-9 on NU's fourth offensive play of the game's to jump to a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

After the Blackshirts second defensive stop of the night, Abdullah took the first play of NU's second possession to the house, sprinting 57 yards to paydirt and a 14-0 Husker lead less than three minutes into the action.

The Blackshirts lost the shutout on a bizarre play late in the first quarter. On fourth down, Fresno State quarterback Brian Burrell pooch-punted with the Husker defense on the field. His punt bounced inside the NU 10, and was batted out of the back of the end zone by David Santos for a safety.

The Blackshirts answered with a stop and NU drove into scoring range before freshman place-kicker Drew Brown missed the first field goal of his career.

Despite the missed opportunities, the Blackshirts continued to play solid defense and the offense continued to drive. In the second quarter, NU pushed the lead to 17-2 on a 38-yard field goal by Brown. 

The Huskers then struck with another big play, as De'Mornay Pierson-El exploded on an electric 86-yard punt return for a touchdown with five minutes left in the first half to put the Big Red up 24-2. It was Nebraska's first punt return for a touchdown since Abdullah's return against Idaho State in 2012.

After another Blackshirt stop, Pierson-El continued to spark the Huskers with a 51-yard return on his next touch. A 15-yard facemask on the end of the return put NU at the Fresno State 27, and Brown capitalized with his second field goal of the night five plays later to send the Huskers to the halftime locker room with a 27-5 lead.

The Big Red kept their foot on the gas to start the second half with the Blackshirts forcing a quick stop on the Bulldogs' opening drive. Armstrong and the Huskers then blasted down the field, starting with a 13-yard Armstrong pass to Bell, before Armstrong kept it himself for a powerful 27-yard gallop. Armstrong then hooked up with Westerkamp for a 15-yard pass, before throwing a 20-yard strike down the middle to sophomore tight end Cethan Carter for a touchdown. Armstrong's second touchdown pass of the game put NU up 34-5 with 11:50 left in the third quarter.

Following a 66-yard touchdown run by Burrell, Nebraska zipped 98 yards in just four plays, capped by an Imani Cross 62-yard sprint to the end zone. Cross carried three times for 69 yards on the drive, while Hovey added a key 29-yard reception to convert on third down inside the NU 10.

The Huskers took a 41-12 lead to the fourth quarter before Armstrong connected with tight end Sam Cotton on a 23-yard strike with 10:48 left to make it 48-12.

Nebraska's defense forced another punt, but the Fresno State added its final touchdown after a Husker fumble set the Bulldogs up inside the red zone. Fresno State capitalized two plays later on Burrell's nine-yard pass to Delvo Hardaway.

Burrell finished the night with 241 passing yards while completing 30-of-59 attempts. He connected with Josh Harper on a game-high nine receptions for 76 yards. Harper is the son of former Husker All-American Willie Harper.

Ryker Fife capped the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Christian Bailey with 3:04 left, closing a seven-play, 44-yard march after Hovey recovered Fresno State's onside kick attempt.

Josh Kalu led the Huskers with six unassisted tackles, including one for loss and a forced fumble, while Vincent Valentine provided a dominant presence in the middle. Valentine recorded three tackles for loss including a pair of sacks among his four total tackles. The Huskers finished with four sacks on the night, including nine-yard sacks from Greg McMullen and Marcus Newby.

The Huskers return home next Saturday to close non-conference play against Miami. Kickoff against the Hurricanes is set for 7 p.m. with live national television coverage by ESPN2.

Scoring Summary
Final: #21 Nebraska 55, Fresno State 19
Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014
Bulldog Stadium (Fresno, Calif.)

First Quarter (NEB, 14-2)
NEB - 13:14 - Jordan Westerkamp 70 pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. (Drew Brown kick), 4 plays, 82 yards, 1:46 - NEB 7-0
NEB - 12:03 - Ameer Abdullah 57 run (Brown kick), 1 play, 57 yards, 0:10 - NEB 14-0
FSU - 9:09 - Team Safety - NEB 14-2

Second Quarter (NEB, 27-5)
NEB - 12:18 - Brown 38 FG, 10 plays, 59 yards, 4:47 - NEB 17-2

NEB - 9:11 - De'Mornay Pierson-El 86 punt return (Brown kick) - NEB 24-2
NEB - 5:40 - Brown 22 FG, 5 plays, 22 yards, 2:00 - NEB 27-2
FSU - 2:08 - Kody Kroening 27 FG, 14 plays, 63 yards, 3:25 - NEB 27-5

Third Quarter (NEB, 41-12)
NEB - 11:50 - Cethan Carter 20 pass from Armstrong (Brown kick) - 4 plays, 75 yards, 1:27 - NEB 34-5
FSU - 4:42 - Brian Burrell 66 run (Kroening kick) - 2 plays, 78 yards, 0:34 - NEB 34-12 
NEB - 2:47 - Imani Cross 62 run (Brown kick) - 4 plays, 98 yards, 1:47 - NEB 41-12

Fourth Quarter (55-19)
NEB - 10:48 - Sam Cotton 23 pass from Armstrong (Brown kick) - 5 plays, 55 yards, 2:30 - NEB 48-12

FSU - 6:25 - Delvo Hardaway 9 pass from Burrell (Kroening kick) - 2 plays, 14 yards, 0:39 - NEB 48-19
NEB - 3:04 - Christian Bailey 10 pass from Ryker Fife (Brown kick) - 7 plays, 44 yards, 3:20 - NEB 55-19

Final: #21 Nebraska 55, Fresno State 19 
Attendance: 41,031
Time of Game: 3:41
Game Start: 9:40 p.m. (central)


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