The wild and the wacky Nebraska-Fresno State game kept fans on the edge of their seats and coaches paying strict attention to the rulebook and the officials' meetings.
It started in the first quarter. On fourth-and-2 at the Nebraska 3-yard line, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr raced to his left and took to the air at the sideline. Officials on the field ruled he got to the 1, good enough for a first down.
But upon review, the ruling was changed, as Carr had reached out with the football, getting it inside the pylon while he was in the air. Touchdown.
After Bo Pelini discussed matters with one official, others gathered and it looked like there might be a review of the review. Still a touchdown.
"On the replay, you could see it," said former Big 12 official Scott Koch, who was observing the officiating crew from the press box. "It would have been real hard for the head linesman to see it because of his relationship to the ball, the pylon and the sideline. He put the ball down where he thought the player went out of bounds."
On Nebraska's first play after the Bulldogs' score, NU quarterback Taylor Martinez threw toward Ben Cotton, but Derron Smith stepped in front to intercept. He headed toward the sideline, and when Quincy Enunwa knocked the ball out, NU's Rex Burkhead fell on it. Two changes of possession on the same play.
Early in the second quarter, Martinez scrambled to his left. Jeremiah Toma stripped the ball from Martinez and Bulldog Donavon Lewis came away with the ball. Another review.
Turns out, Lewis was out of bounds when he grabbed the ball, so it went back to NU, which came up short on a fourth-down sneak.
"There were a lot of unusual plays," Koch said. "As an official, you don't like that because you don't want to get noticed. You'd rather be invisible and let the players play."
Near the end of the first half, four officials gathered before calling a personal foul on Fresno State, setting up a Hail Mary pass by Martinez, which was intercepted in the end zone.
The Huskers were on the short end of another review in the third quarter. The officials ruled that Brandon Kinnie made a 13-yard catch to keep a drive alive, but the replay booth overruled it and NU had to punt.
Kick or throw?
NU kicker Brett Maher would liked to have had a chance at a 62-yard field goal. Just before halftime, the Huskers lined up with Maher ready to kick, but after Fresno State took a timeout, NU opted for Martinez to throw into the end zone, where the ball was intercepted.
"I was hoping coach would give me the opportunity. I've hit one messing around, but never in a gamelike situation," Maher said. "A 62-yard field goal is just as much of a crapshoot as a Hail Mary pass.
"That (punt) return (by Devon Wylie for a TD) was disappointing. I was supposed to get it outside the hash more and I left it in the middle of the field. He's a good returner and he made us pay."
Ameer Abdullah got plenty of chances to return kickoffs, and his 100-yard return for a touchdown helped him break the school record for kickoff return yards in a game with 211. That erased the mark of 186 set by Josh Davis at Kansas State in 2002. Abdullah's 100-yard TD return was the fourth such return in history for Nebraska. For Fresno State, Devon Wylie's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown was the Bulldog senior's first.
Californians for Nebraska
It was 80 degrees at kickoff with a slight breeze from the east-northeast when Martinez, Enunwa, Cameron Meredith and Dijon Washington, all Californians, went to midfield as the captains for Nebraska. Martinez is from Corona, Enunwa from Moreno Valley, Meredith from Huntington Beach and Washington from Lawndale.
Last week, Fresno State gave up nine plays of 20 yards or more against Cal. Big plays proved to be key for Nebraska on Saturday, and the Huskers' quick strikes often came in pairs. On the first scoring drive, Martinez had a 57-yard run and Cotton made a one-handed 20-yard catch to set up a TD dive.
NU's second scoring drive was sparked by Martinez' 38-yard run and a 42-yard pass to Kenny Bell. Martinez later found Jamal Turner for a 43-yard gain, then hit Enunwa with a 16-yard scoring pass.
In the fourth quarter, Martinez found Kyler Reed for a 53-yard gain that led to Burkhead's 6-yard scoring run. And later, Martinez raced 46 yards to score. He finished with 166 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.
Fresno State mostly chipped away at the Huskers but also registered some big plays. None were bigger than the pair in the fourth-quarter drive that drew the Bulldogs to 28-26. Carr hit A.J. Johnson with a 55-yard pass, then found Josh Harper, son of former Husker great Willie Harper, in the corner of the end zone with a 26-yard TD pass.
"We never panicked and it could have looked like all gloom and doom," NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "They are a feast or famine defense. Of the film we watched, there were 130 first-and-10 snaps and there were 72 snaps that were second-and-long.
"They either stop you or they give up big plays."
Center Mike Caputo has plenty of respect for tackle Yoshi Hardrick.
"He came back in after he was hurt, but that didn't surprise me," Caputo said of the senior, who injured a hand in the first half. "He broke his other hand during the spring and was back out on the field the next day."
Nebraska scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. In the Huskers' previous seven games combined, NU had scored 13 points in the fourth quarter.