Lincoln - Quarterback Zac Lee engineered an efficient and balanced Nebraska offense, while the Nebraska defense continued to flex its muscles, as No. 22 Nebraska rolled to a 38-9 victory over visiting Arkansas State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Playing in front of the NCAA-record 299th consecutive sellout with 85,035 fans at Memorial Stadium and a Fox Sports pay-per-view audience, Lee helped the Huskers improve to 2-0 by completing 27-of-35 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start. The junior from San Francisco, Calif., connected with 11 Husker receivers, while powering Nebraska to more than 490 yards of total offense for the second straight game.
Wide receiver Niles Paul was Lee's favorite target on the day, hauling in a career-high six catches for 69 yards with his first career touchdown reception. The junior from Omaha added the first touchdown run of his career on a 30-yard reverse. Paul added 53 kickoff return yards and 17 punt return yards to close with 169 all-purpose yards on the afternoon. Overall, 14 different Husker receivers caught passes on the afternoon, as NU finished with 358 passing yards and 136 rushing yards.
Junior tight end Mike McNeill added a pair of touchdown catches on the day, while bringing down four receptions for 57 yards. Menelik Holt added a career-best five catches for 40 yards, while Roy Helu Jr. pulled down four receptions for 44 yards. Helu added 60 yards on 14 carries on the ground, as Nebraska managed 121 rushing yards on the afternoon.
Nebraska's Blackshirt defense slowed a potent Arkansas State offense, holding the Red Wolves to 272 total yards, including 141 on the ground and 131 through the air. Senior safety Larry Asante led the Blackshirts with eight tackles, including seven solos, while forcing the game's only turnover with a fumble-causing hit to stop an ASU drive inside the NU 20. Prince Amukamara added seven tackles, including a tackle-for-loss, while senior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh notched five tackles, including three tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks (17 yards).
Lee led Nebraska to a quick 21-0 advantage just two minutes into the second quarter with a precision passing attack and a quick-tempo on offense. In the first half, Lee completed 15-of-19 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He guided the Huskers to 270 total yards in the opening half, while controlling the time of possession (17:44-12:16), on their way to a 24-6 halftime edge.
Lee got the Huskers off to a fast start, leading the Big Red on an eight-play, 80-yard march capped by a three-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman fullback Tyler Legate. Legate's first career score gave NU a 7-0 lead with 11:40 left in the opening quarter. Nebraska's opening drive was highlighted by a 43-yard strike to Curenski Gilleylen that set up the pass to Legate, along with Lee's 11-yard connection with McNeill to convert on third down early in the drive.
After the Blackshirts forced a punt on the Red Wolves' first drive, Lee engineered another impressive 80-yard drive for the Huskers. He went 5-for-5 for 54 yards through the air, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to McNeill to give NU a 14-0 lead with 1:15 left in the first quarter. Through the first two drives, Lee was 8-for-9 for 111 yards, while adding three carries for 22 yards on the ground, accounting for 133 of the 160 total offense yards on the drives.
Suh and fellow defensive lineman Jared Crick put an exclamation point on Nebraska's second defensive stand, forcing a 4th-and-18 from the ASU 5 to end the opening quarter after sacking quarterback Corey Leonard.
Lee and the Huskers opened the second stanza with their best field position of the day, starting their third drive at the ASU 46. Three plays later, Paul extended NU's lead to 21-0 with his first career rushing touchdown on a 30-yard reverse.
Arkansas State tried to fight its way back into the game, driving to the NU 25 on its first possession of the second quarter. But after a Leonard completion to Jahbari McLennan, Asante hit McLennan hard to force a fumble that was recovered by Barry Turner to stop the ASU threat. The Huskers appeared to capitalize when Lee connected with Paul on what would have been a 70-yard touchdown pass, but the play was wiped out by an NU holding penalty.
The Red Wolves stopped the Huskers for the first time and after a solid punt return and a 15-yard face mask penalty was tacked on, ASU took over at the Husker 32. Arkansas State capitalized on the excellent field position six plays later, when Reggie Arnold scored from one yard out to trim Nebraska's lead to 21-6 after Josh Arauco's PAT missed wide right with 5:30 left in the half. Arnold's score ended Nebraska's streak of 106 minutes of game action without surrendering a touchdown.
Nebraska answered the Red Wolves score with another successful drive, covering 58 yards in 11 plays capped by Alex Henery's first field goal of the season to give the Huskers a 24-6 halftime lead.
Lee kept Nebraska in control in the third quarter, coordinating a four-play 67-yard drive that culminated with a 32-yard scoring strike to McNeill that put the Huskers up 31-6 with 9:47 left in the third. The Blackshirts silenced the Red Wolves in the third quarter, but surrendered a 42-yard field goal by Arauco that just cleared the crossbar with 12:05 left in the game.
Lee closed the day by leading NU on a seven-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a two-yard scoring pass to Paul with 8:14 left to end the scoring.
Nebraska will hit the road for the first time in 2009, when the Huskers travel to Blacksburg, Va., to take on No. 14 Virginia Tech, Saturday, Sept. 19. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. (Central) with live television coverage on ABC.
First Quarter (14-0)
NU - 11:40 - Tyler Legate 3 pass from Zac Lee (Alex Henery kick) - 8 plays, 80 yards, 3:20, NU 7-0
NU - 1:15 - Mike McNeill 13 pass from Lee (Henery kick) - 11 plays, 80 yards, 5:20, NU 14-0
Second Quarter (24-6)
NU - 13:59 - Niles Paul 30 run (Henery kick) - 3 plays, 46 yards, 0:51, NU 21-0
ASU - 5:30 - Reggie Arnold 1 run (Josh Arauco kick failed) - 6 plays, 32 yards, 3:12, NU 21-6
NU - 0:09 - Henery 26 FG - l1 plays, 58 yards, 5:14, NU 24-6
Third Quarter (31-6)
NU - 9:47 - McNeill 32 pass from Lee (Henery kick) - 4 plays, 67 yards, 1:36, NU 31-6
Fourth Quarter (38-9)
ASU - 12:05 - Arauco 42 FG - 8 plays, 39 yards, 2:39, NU 31-9
NU - 8:14 - Paul 2 pass (Henery kick) - 7 plays, 66 yards, 3:44, NU 38-9
Final: Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9
Time of Game: 2:47