By Tommy Rezac
It came down to the final play, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-0) survived the Arkansas State RedWolves (0-1) on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, hanging on for a 43-36 win in front of 90, 171 fans.
Junior quarterback Tanner Lee impressed in his Husker debut, completing 19-of-32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
“Oh man, it was a lot of fun,” Lee said on his first college game since Nov. 21, 2015. “The most fun I’ve had in awhile. Extremely happy we got the win, but we still have a lot to build on, a lot to work on.”
Sophomore running back Tre Bryant was a star in Nebraska’s backfield, toting the rock 31 times for 192 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
RedWolves quarterback Justice Hansen, a junior and former enrollee at Oklahoma, was outstanding on Saturday, completing a whopping 46-of-68 throws for 415 yards and three touchdowns. Arkansas State amassed 497 yards of total offense, while the Huskers totaled 463.
“I’m glad we won the game,” Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said afterward. “I’ll give a lot of credit to Arkansas State, how they played. We talked about that all week long, that this was going to be a darn good football team and they were going to give us fits controlling and moving the football, and they did.”
Junior receiver Stanley Morgan was the top target for Lee on Saturday, catching five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman scored his first career touchdown as a Husker in the first quarter on a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Nebraska hadn’t scored a touchdown on a kickoff return since Kenny Bell at Penn State in 2013.
Spielman’s return immediately followed Arkansas State’s Blaise Taylor’s 63-yard punt return for a touchdown, giving Arkansas State an early 10-7 lead.
“It felt really good,” Spielman said about his return. “After I saw their punt returner take it to the end zone, I remember looking over to their sideline and seeing them all jump around. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to shut that down,’ and I got the opportunity to shut that down. It changed the momentum back towards Nebraska.”
Nebraska goes on the road to face the Oregon Ducks (1-0) on Saturday at 3 p.m. central. The Ducks beat Utah State in dominating fashion 77-21 on Saturday at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR.
Nebraska beat Oregon in Lincoln last season 35-32.