After a long nine months, Nebraska football is back. The hype for this season is one of the highest in years. The Huskers will face a familiar opponent in Fresno State.
Husker fans have been ecstatic for the this upcoming season ever since the 37-29 win over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl in December. That big win helped the Huskers finish 6-7 last season. NU will return a number of starters that will continue to impact the season for the Huskers.
Fresno State, out of the Mountain West Conference, is coming off a tough season with a record of 3-9. The Bulldogs played a reasonably tough schedule and never found their way during the 2015 season.
Fresno State Offense
Fresno State plays a spread offense with a lot of passing and zone running formations.
The Bulldogs will be led on offense by redshirt freshmen quarterback Chason Virgil.
Virgil stands at 6-2,190 pounds. He was a highly touted recruit out of Mesquite, Texas. He was the 13th ranked quarterback in the nation and held offers from Louisville, Oklahoma, Auburn, and more.
Virgil played in three games last season and then went down with a season ending injury against Utah and was granted a medical hardship waiver. This will be his first game back since the injury, and he will face a hostile environment.
Da’Mari Scott will be a target Virgil will go to. Scott is a senior that stands at 6-1, 210 pounds. Last season Scott had 24 catches for 364 yards ad a score. Aaron Peck will be the big target for the Bulldogs. Peck is 6-3, 225 pounds. Peck is coming off a season where he was injured and took a redshirt, but 2014 he snared 32 passes for 419 yards. KeeSean Johnson will be another receiver to watch for as last season as a freshmen he caught 37 passes for 337 yards.
At running back Dontel James will start. James has had very limited playing time. The 6-0, 224 junior only has 8 carries of 13 yards.
Fresno State’s offensive line is composed of some players that have seen action throughout their careers, but for the most part are fairly young. Center Jacob Vazquez will be a huge contributor as he will start at center. Last season he made 7 starts from various positions on the line.
Blake Cusack will punt and Kody Kroening will kick for the Bulldogs.
Fresno State Defense
Fresno State runs a 4-3 base defense that is fairly experienced.
Fresno State’s defense will be led by a talented linebacker named Jeff Camilli. Camilli is a 6-3, 262 pound senior that is a terror at linebacker. Last season he recorded 73 total tackles and 2 interceptions.
On the defensive line Nate Madsen will anchor the D-Line at his defensive end spot. He stands at a 6-4, 293 pounds and had 19 tackles last year in his 11 starts. He is poised to have a big year.
In the secondary Tyquawn Glass will be a key asset to the defense as a solid cover corner. Last season Glass had 36 tackles and 4 interceptions for the Bulldogs.
A big reason for optimism this season for NU is their offense. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is looking to have an improved year as last season he recorded 3,030 yards, 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Armstrong will look to be a consistent player this season, or else the Huskers could suffer.
The wide receivers will be a key going into this game as they will be all season. Jordan Westerkamp will look to build off of last year’s 65 catches, 918 yards, and 7 touchdown season. The 6-0, 200 pound senior will be important in helping Tommy stay calm and be a go to guy this season.
With Brandon Reilly out due to suspension, it will be next man up which is Staley Morgan. With Morgan there is no drop off as last season he had 25 catches for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns and he will look to be a deep threat against this Fresno State Defense.
The other two receivers to watch for will be senior Alonzo Moore and junior De’Morney Pierson-El. Both will be deep threats that can change the game in a split second. Pierson-El will also be key in the punt return game.
At the running back spot it will be a committee effort. Senior Terrell Newby will get the start. The 5-10, 200 pounder had 765 yards on 147 carries last season and 6 scores. Devine Ozigbo will get a lot of carries also as he seems to be the most versatile back. Ozigbo had a nice season last year and looks to build off that for this season.
The other two backs to watch will be true freshmen Tre Bryant and sophomore Mikale Wilbon. Tre Bryant will be utilized in certain formations and will be used as a kick returner.
Freshmen Caleb Lightbourn will be doing the punting and Drew Brown will kick for NU.
A defense that was lacking depth last season, has a lot of it this year. The linebackers look stout, the secondary is talented, and the defensive line as a lot of depth, but unproven talent.
Senior Josh Banderas will play the middle linebacker. The 6-3, 240 pound senior finally put it all together last season recording 61 tackles and for the most part stayed very healthy. Sophomore Dedrick Young will be at the one of the outside linebacker spots and will look to build off a very productive true freshmen season where he had 61 tackles. The other outside linebacker will be junior Marcus Newby. Newby last season filled in when linebackers were hurt so he is more than seasoned. It’s a shock to see him ahead of Michael Rose-Ivey, but Rose-Ivey is trying to stay healthy. Rose-Ivey will be on the field plenty for NU.
Other linebackers to see action at linebacker will junior Chris Weber and redshirt freshmen Mohamed Barry.
The defensive backs will be tested against a solid receiving core in Fresno State. In the secondary Josh Kalu will return at his corner position and more than likely be the lockdown guy. Kalu recorded 56 tackles and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. Kalu has also bulked up a bit and now weighs 190 with his 6-1 frame.
Chris Jones will play the other corner spot. The junior came along nicely towards the end of last season and played well for the Huskers.
With Nate Gerry being suspended, junior Kieron Williams and sophomore Aaron Williams will start at the safety spots.
The player to watch in the secondary is true freshmen Lamar Jackson. Jackson was a highly recruited player out of Elk Grove, California. Jackson had offers from various schools, but chose Nebraska. Coach Riley believes the young man will be a key component to the team. Jackson can play both corner back and safety, but will be used primarily as a corner.
The defensive line for the Blackshirts has a lot of depth, but lacks experience. Returning defensive lineman Freedom Akinmoladun and Kevin Maurice have the most experience coming back.
If the Huskers show up and prove they are the better team and the hype is real, they will dominate Fresno State, if they don’t it may be a season with heartbreaks like last season. The Huskers should take this one by a score of 52-17.