LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska players are starting the week concerned about themselves more than they are about Fresno State. They say some self-reflection is in order after Saturday’s close call against McNeese State.
”It was a humbling game for us,” offensive tackle Alex Lewis said. ”We have tougher competition coming up. We play like that down the road, I don’t know if we come away with a `W.’ ”
The Cowboys of the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision erased a 10-point deficit and were tied with Nebraska (2-0) in the final minute. The Cornhuskers won 31-24 on Ameer Abdullah’s tackle-busting catch-and-run for a 58-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left.
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”It’s a wakeup call that we have a lot to work on,” guard Mike Moudy said. ”The sky’s not falling. Nothing’s changed. We’re going to look at this film critically, and guys are going to be critical of themselves and have to look in the mirror and decide if they gave their all or didn’t.”
The Huskers, picked to contend for the Big Ten West title, struggled against an undersized but scrappy McNeese State front seven that blitzed often and was constantly moving before the snap. Nebraska had only two first downs after halftime, going three plays and out on four series and punting after four plays on another.
Take away a 34-yard run by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and the 58-yard touchdown by Abdullah, and the Huskers generated only 48 yards in the second half. A penalty nullified a short touchdown run by Armstrong and forced a field goal, and another flag brought back a long pass to Jordan Westerkamp inside the McNeese State 20 and led to a punt.
”A lot of guys went into the cave and shut down,” Moudy said. ”You’ve got to understand it’s resilience under negative circumstances that we really, really have to work on. Something goes negative and you have people yelling at you, and you’ve got to take that play and remove it.
”That’s one thing I’ve learned in five years here that you can’t let a bad play carry over into the next one. We have a lot of young guys who need to work on their maturity.”
The Huskers allowed 178 rushing yards, including 74 on 10 carries by quarterback Daniel Sams. They also were bitten by short passes to running backs that turned into long gainers. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said busted coverages and miscommunication let McNeese State keep moving the ball.
”You can learn from these things and come back and be humbled and work harder or you can be rattled by it,” Papuchis said. ”It’s our job to make sure they’re not rattled by it.”
Abdullah and cornerback Josh Mitchell, both captains, said they sensed complacency setting in at practice last week after the Huskers rolled up 784 yards in a 48-point win over Florida Atlantic.
”Football is a game that I love, a game I have a lot of respect for, but the respect as a whole across the board for this team needs to go up, as does preparation, as does respect of the opponent,” Abdullah said.
The Huskers head west this week to play a Fresno State team that has given up 52 and 59 points in losses to Southern California and Utah.
Coach Bo Pelini said defensive end Randy Gregory (left knee) should play after missing the McNeese State game. The receivers are hurting, though. Kenny Bell pulled a groin in the first quarter and is day-to-day, and Jamal Turner tore his Achilles’ tendon in the second quarter and is out. Sam Burtch and Brandon Reilly already were out because of injuries.