Bo Pelini opened up his fifth season as Nebraska’s head coach with a tone setting, 49-20, triumph over the defending Conference USA champion Southern Miss Golden Eagles in Lincoln. Jim Mora looks for his first signature victory as the Bruins’ head coach, as UCLA welcomes the 16th-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers to the Rose Bowl for a non-conference battle.
The Cornhuskers had their best offensive performance (632 total yards, zero turnovers) since Pelini’s debut with the program. The win improved Nebraska’s active September winning streak to 10 games and improved Pelini’s record versus non-league foes to 15-2.
UCLA opens its 31st season at home in the Rose Bowl in this contest. Mora got his first win in his debut with the Bruins, as a devastating rushing attack fueled a lopsided 49-24 decision over Rice last week.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with UCLA by a count of 6-4. These two teams haven’t met on the gridiron since 1994 when second-ranked Nebraska posted a 49-21 victory in Lincoln.
Nebraska’s engine was charged by junior Taylor Martinez’s excellence in the team’s opener. The Cornhuskers’ signal caller earned the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week award after appearing unstoppable, completing 26-of-34 attempts for a career-high 354 yards and five touchdowns. Martinez kept the Golden Eagles guessing by spreading the ball out to 10 different receivers before halftime. Martinez only gained 11 rushing yards against USM, but his scrambling ability requires defenses to keep a spy on the athletic quarterback.
“Their quarterback is dynamite,” said Mora on Martinez. “I know going into the game there were some questions about his ability to stand in the pocket and throw and I think that he put all those doubts to rest with his showing on Saturday.”
Quincy Enunwa led NU’s evidently deep array of wide receivers with six catches for 70 yards. Tight end Kyler Reed was second on the team with 57 yards and a touchdown on five grabs.
The Cornhuskers had the 18th best rushing offense (278 yards ) in the NCAA in week one despite losing their superstar tailback Rex Burkhead to a knee injury in the opening frame. Burkhead ran for 68 yards and a touchdown on just three carries before exiting the game. Burkhead, who ran for 1,357 yards last season, is listed as questionable for this Saturday.
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah (81 yards, 15 carries) and freshman Imani Cross (62 yards, 11 carries) were both utilized versus USM after Burkhead left the game.
NU held the Golden Eagles over 200 yards under their 2011 average of 461.4 yards per game en route to its 1-0 start. The task of shutting down an explosive offense for the second week in a row is a primary concern of the coaching staff.
“I think they are explosive. Obviously, they had 650 yards of offense and scored a lot of points in a hurry,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “Their skill guys are explosive and athletic, and they are pretty solid up front. We know we have a tough task going there, but we are preparing well for it.”
Senior linebacker Will Compton is leading NU after one game with 12 tackles. USM’s offensive line was unable to account for all of Nebraska’s playmakers, which led to team totals of three sacks and eight tackles for loss.
The Cornhusker defense has the demanding assignment of slowing down UCLA’s elite rushing attack, which is powered by tailback Johnathan Franklin. The Bruins gained 343 yards on the ground with 214 of those yards coming courtesy of Franklin, who managed to break away for two 70-plus yard touchdown runs in the game.
Redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley wasted no time making it obvious he is going to be a dual-threat by racing for a 72-yard touchdown on his first snap. Hundley also performed well as a passer in his collegiate debut by completing 75 percent of his passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception.
UCLA could give Martinez problems as its six sacks in week one were the most in the country. The Bruins’ defensive unit put points on the board with Damien Holmes’s 44-yard fumble return. Sophomore Eric Kendricks paced the team with 11 tackles for his third consecutive game with double-digit stops.
Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price, both starting senior cornerbacks, make UCLA one of the strongest at the position in the Pac-12. Hester made his 25th career start to become the first Bruin to appear in the starting lineup in four straight season openers since 2005. Price, who actually leads the team with 33 career starts, made four tackles and his second career interception at Rice.
Mora and UCLA have a shot at spoiling any hope Nebraska has of competing for the national title. However, the Bruins need their freshman quarterback to perform like a seasoned veteran or they will be left in the dust. The Cornhuskers could encounter a problem relying on their underclassmen backup running backs if Burkhead’s injury renders him ineffective or unavailable. If that is the case, Martinez’s passing ability and leadership will be put to the test by the hungry Bruins.