Huskers hang on for 37-34 win

LINCOLN — Nebraska's youthful defense was given a big test late in the season opener against Wyoming. Cowboy quarterback Brett Smith threw a pair of touchdown passes to erase a 37-21 deficit, and had the ball with under a minute left. The Blackshirts prevented Wyoming from scoring to close out the game, but they didn't exactly have a pretty debut in the 37-34 win.

"Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do. I just said to our team, 'Whether you win by three or you win 65-0, it's never as good as you think it is and it's never as bad as you think it is,'" said head coach Bo Pelini. "I thought (Wyoming) did some good things to us. They caught us in a couple things. They hit us in the right calls defensively early on.

"Like I told our team, let this serve as an example to you that what I'm saying is true — every single day is important to this football team."

The Cowboys tallied 602 yards of total offense on the Nebraska defense, while Smith showed moxie and good pocket presence in his 383 yard and four touchdowns passing performance.
The Cornhusker offense, meanwhile, showed good signs but also couldn't avoid silly mistakes. NU tallied 375 yards on the ground as running backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross had 125 and 105 yards, respectively.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez finished 17-of-22 for 155 yards and three scores with one crucial interception in the fourth quarter that sparked the Wyoming comeback. His top target was Quincy Enunwa, who had two touchdown receptions. The captain said after the game that the mood wasn't pleasant in the locker room.

"This definitely wasn't up to our standards. We weren't very excited," he said. "We got a win, which is always a good thing to happen. But when you're beating a team by 16 and end up winning by three? That's not ideal. We kind of want to put this in the past."
The quick-paced Cowboy offense left the young NU defense looking like a sieve at times in the first half. By halftime, Wyoming had 300 yards of total offense and was averaging 7.3 yards per play.

Wyoming scored first on a six-play, 64-yard drive midway through the first quarter after Smith scrambled and found Jalen Claiborne on a 6-yard pass. The Husker offense — whose first drive of the season started at its own 3-yard line and went nowhere due to a false start penalty — responded to the Wyoming touchdown with three points off a 24-yard field goal by kicker Pat Smith.

It was a disappointing three points, though, as the Huskers had the ball in the red zone and couldn't capitalize. The offense kept the scoring drive alive after Martinez's third-down pass was tipped and caught by tight end Jake Long for 26 yards. The momentum turned a little towards the home side on the ensuing Cowboy drive when Stanley Jean-Baptiste intercepted a pass at the goal line and returned it out to the NU 42-yard line.

NU's offense capitalized six plays later when Martinez found Jamal Turner in the corner of the end zone from 17 yards out to take its first lead at 10-7. Wyoming scored later in the second quarter on a 6-yard touchdown run from Shaun Wick.

The Huskers took a 17-14 lead before half when Cross knotted a 1-yard touchdown run. That score was set up by a 62-yard run on an outside stretch play by Abdullah at the start of the drive. The early parts of the second half showed a little more promise for the Huskers. The offense finally found a little rhythm on the ground, which helped play a role in scores on its first two possessions.

Cross got his second touchdown of the game on the Huskers first drive of the third quarter, spinning past a defender twice on a 31-yard run to give NU a 24-14 lead. On the Huskers' next offensive possession, Martinez found Enunwa in the end zone on a 3-yard pass that wasn't confirmed till after a review.

"I knew I scored," Enunwa said. "Coach (Rich) Fisher does a good job on different drills. I got to the sideline and he said, 'That's coaching.'"

Wyoming brought the score to within ten at 31-21 when Smith found running back Brandon Miller on a 22-yard touchdown pass. But another Martinez-to-Enunwa connection — this time from seven yards out — gave Nebraska a 16-point lead. Smith missed the extra point, his only blemish of the night.

After that point, the NU defense hit a lull, according to Pelini.

"They kind of settled in there and we had a couple chances to make our plays. A couple times we'd have a chance to have a sack and a couple times the little yellow hankie should have come up and it didn't," the coach said. "It is what it is. We had our chances to make some plays there and we didn't do it."

Smith found Claiborne again on a 29-yard passing score after Martinez's interception. After the Wyoming defense stuffed the NU running game, Smith hit Robert Herron with a 47-yard touchdown pass. NU's coach was impressed with the play of Smith, who also rushed for 95 yards in his outing.

"The guy's good. He's one of the better quarterbacks I've seen in a while as far as buying time and being elusive in the pocket," Pelini said. "But when you get home, you've got to get the guy on the ground. We didn't always do a good job of that."

There was speculation that Martinez was injured in the second half. He played every snap, but afterwards was seen leaving the stadium with a large bag of ice on his non-throwing shoulder. He denied interview requests.

Enunwa said that the rough performance will spark Monday's practice as the Huskers get set to host Southern Mississippi next Saturday.

"I think we'll respond well," he said. "We have a lot of great leaders, great players and great competitors. I don't think anybody liked how the game ended. Everybody's going to come out on Monday and it will be a great practice."

Added Pelini: "We need to make a big jump from week one to week two. I think we'll learn a lot from this game. I think our coaches will know more about our team"

NOTES: The Husker victory improved its record to 7-0 all-time against the Cowboys…The win also extended Nebraska's streak to 28 consecutive hope-opening victories… The attendance — 91,185 — was the largest in Memorial Stadium history thanks to the addition on the East side.

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