The third-quarter statistics for Arkansas State said it all — three fumble recoveries, 15 total yards, no first downs, 10 points.
“I think the defense played good enough to win. We just didn’t get it done offensively,” said Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn after his team lost 42-13 to Nebraska. “The offense was stagnant, to say the least, in the second half and didn’t give us a chance to win. In the third quarter, the biggest disappointment to me was that our offense didn’t get rolling.”
Qushaun Lee made the first fumble recovery — in the end zone for a touchdown after Shervarius Jackson knocked the ball out of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez’ hands.
The Huskers went lickety-split down the field until Ryan Carrethers pounced on another Martinez fumble. This time, the Red Wolves couldn’t convert and were forced to punt. They got the ball right back, though, when officials ruled the ball touched NU return man Ameer Abdullah.
The Red Wolves recovered but couldn’t pick up a yard, settling for a 32-yard field goal by Brian Davis to trim Nebraska’s lead to 28-13.
“We had a chance to be in the game in the third quarter and had to kick a field goal,” said Malzahn. “We got some momentum on the punt, and if we put it in the end zone, we make it interesting.”
Quarterback Ryan Aplin shouldered much of the blame for the offensive woes. The senior was 16-for-30 passing for 138 yards and ran 11 times for 18 yards.
“I’m very embarrassed with the way I played. I let my teammates down,” said Aplin. “I put my guys in a bind. I have to give my guys chances to make plays.
“When it came down to it, we didn’t put points on the board. We have to jump on those opportunities when the defense gives us the ball.”
Malzahn, who is highly regarded for his knowledge of the spread offense, made his game plan evident early when the Red Wolves went for it on fourth-and-8 near midfield. The pass was incomplete and Nebraska marched 51 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead.
“We’re going to be very aggressive. That’s our mindset. We had it but did not execute,” he said. “In a game like this, we’re coming here to win. We’ll take chances at times. Strategically, it didn’t work out this time.”
The Arkansas State defense surrendered 527 total yards, but Malzahn said the Red Wolves had a good day.
“Here’s what you have to do when you’re playing a team like them. You have to sell out on the run. You take chances to stop the run,” Malzahn said. “Any time you put guys in one-on-one situations (in the secondary), it makes it tough.
“Martinez is a great dual-threat quarterback, and we were undisciplined in a lot of areas today. We are a work in progress.”
The Red Wolves had several defensive bests. Lee had a career-high 15 tackles, and the fumble recovery for a TD was his first. Nathan Herrold and Don Jones equaled their season highs for tackles with 11 and eight, respectively, and it was Carrethers’ first fumble recovery.