Back in the top-25, the Nebraska Cornhuskers step out of FBS play this weekend, when they play host to FCS foe Idaho State at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Nebraska got a scare last weekend when head coach Bo Pelini was rushed to the hospital at halftime with an undisclosed illness. The now 25th-ranked Cornhuskers took care of business on the field nonetheless, knocking off Arkansas State, 42-13 to move to 2-1 on the young season. The win improved Nebraska to 2-1 on the season after knocking off Southern Miss in the opener (49-20) and losing at UCLA a week later (36-30).
The Bengals play in the Big Sky Conference and enter this contest off a bye week. Mike Kramer’s squad has split the first two games of the 2012 campaign, losing at Air Force, 49-21 in the opener and routing Black Hills State the next week, 38-5.
Kramer is preparing his team for this game, but has also stressed that the outcome isn’t nearly as important as the effort.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to play in a great environment. The point is we are trying to prepare ourselves the best we can to win the Big Sky Conference Championship and that does not go through Lincoln, Nebraska. For us that begins against Sacramento State. Our immediate goal is to get out of the game a better football team then when we went into it regardless of if we are playing Black Hills State or the University of Nebraska.”
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the gridiron.
The Bengals are a team that thrives on the pass this season. Idaho State is averaging an impressive 541.0 yards through two games, with most of that coming in the air (443.5 ypg).
Quarterback Kevin Yost has gotten off to a fast start, including going 40- of-57 passing, for 448 yards and two TDs in the last game against Black Hills State. Thus far, Yost has completed 74.3 percent of his throws (81-of-109), for 803 yards, with four TDs and just one INT.
Wideout David Graves also had a productive game last time out, catching 15 balls, for 151 yards and one TD. He now leads the team with 30 catches and 269 yards. Cam Richard has been a favorite target as well, hauling in 20 balls in the first two games, for 217 yards and one score.
The ground game is the second option on offense and the results are indicative of that, with ISU averaging a modest 97.5 ypg.
It is tough to judge the Idaho State defense off of two games with vastly different results. Air Force is a prolific rushing team that has obviously skewed the numbers against the Bengals, who are yielding 292.5 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense has been much better (121.5 ypg), but that again has to be put in proper context.
Sophomore linebacker Mike Beckstead currently leads the team in tackles with 19 and is responsible for the team’s only turnover, a fumble recovery. Fellow sophomore LB Demetrius Allen and junior strong safety Tanner Davis are next in line in terms of tackles with 15 apiece.
The Cornhuskers have had to deal with the loss of talented tailback Rex Burkhead in the season-opener to injury, but the depth Pelini has in the backfield has not missed a beat.
It helps to have a premier dual-threat quarterback in the form of Taylor Martinez running the show. The sophomore signal-caller is an integral part of a rushing attack that is putting up a whopping 295.0 yards per game. tailback Ameer Abdullah has been phenomenal in Burkhead’s absence and is averaging 122.3 yards per game on 6.0 yards per carry with four TDs. Martinez adds 58.7 yards per game with his legs, but it is his passing that is gaining praise lately. Martinez is completing 70.9 percent of his passes thus far, for 713 yards, with seven TDs against just one INT.
Quincy Enunwa (13 receptions, 125 yards) leads the team in catches, but after a big game against Arkansas State, Kenny Bell (two TDs) is starting to get more attention. Bell has 10 catches on the season for 205 yards and three scores.
Burkhead is expected back this week, but offensive coordinator Tim Beck was quick to note that the gameplan will still include his other talented tailbacks.
“They are all deserving. Just because Rex is back doesn’t mean we are going to push those guys away Saturday. They are a big part of our offense and they always have been, and they will continue to be a part of our offense.”
Nebraska’s defense has been a bit of a disappointment in the early going, especially against the run, where foes are netting 225.7 yards per game on nearly five yards per carry. The pass defense has been much better however, thanks in part to a pass rush that has already generated nine sacks.
Senior middle linebacker Will Compton is tops on the defense in tackles with 31, with 3.0 TFls and two sacks. Senior safety Daimon Stafford is next with 23 stops, with one fumble recovery, followed by fellow senior safety P.J. Smith (22 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, one INT).