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Red report: Huskers' response after punch assured blowout

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Nebraska vs. Fresno State, 9.13.14

Nebraska wide receiver Lane Hovey (13) tries to outrun Fresno State defensive back Malcolm Washington (20) in the fourth quarter Saturday in Fresno, Calif. The sophomore had three receptions for 48 yards.

FRESNO, Calif. — If there is such a thing as an important third down in a game in which you're leading by three touchdowns, the Huskers had one Saturday night in their 55-19 victory against Fresno State.

Fresno State had just scored on a 66-yard touchdown run in what amounted to a last-ditch effort to make the game interesting.

Now Nebraska was backed up on its 9-yard line, after De'Mornay Pierson-El fumbled a kickoff out of bounds at the NU 2. It was third-and-3.

Who do you go to in such a situation? Lane Hovey, of course.

The sophomore wide receiver got loose on a 29-yard reception from Tommy Armstrong, flashing speed that was tough to miss in the offseason.

One play later, Imani Cross rumbled 62 yards for a touchdown. Four plays, 98 yards, good night. With a big assist from the sophomore walk-on from Adel, Iowa.

"We have a lot of confidence in Lane," Husker coach Bo Pelini said. "I think he shows that he's a pretty explosive kid."

With Jamal Turner out for the season, and receivers Sam Burtch and Brandon Reilly yet to play this season because of injuries, Hovey is a name to know as the season progresses.

Saturday night, he finished with three catches for 48 yards, the second-most receptions for a Husker.

"The dude works his tail off all the time, and he had a great week of practice," said sophomore receiver Jordan Westerkamp. "It's great to see that pay off for him."

And while Hovey's catch was big, the drive was just as much about the junior running back Cross, who had all three of his carries in the game on that series, gaining 69 yards.

While it's the touchdown run people will talk about, Cross knows his hard-earned runs of 3 yards, then 4 yards, with his back against the NU end zone, had their own value.

"Those are pivotal," Cross said. "As the season goes along, you're going to be in those situations. To get some good practice like that is key."

And if you can cover 98 yards in four snaps, all the better.

"I don't think our approach changed or anything," said left guard Jake Cotton. "I think we went into it just trying to do our job and not do anything Herculean in any of those early plays. Do our job and get the results that way."

* THAT WAS SPECIAL: A week after being named the Big Ten's special-teams player of the week, Husker punter Sam Foltz had some more tricks.

It appeared the sophomore was using a pitching wedge when he launched a fourth-quarter punt 59 yards, the ball bouncing back like it was on a string so that it could be downed at the Bulldog 6-yard line.

Combine Foltz's punting — he averaged 47.4 yards on five punts — with Pierson-El's return for a touchdown, and the Huskers proved pretty dynamic on the special-teams front — minus an individual mental lapse from linebacker David Santos that led to an odd safety.

"After last season, we kind of re-evaluated our special teams, we kind of came back to some games that didn't go our way where special teams could have helped out," Foltz said.

"And I think there are a lot of guys in that room that are taking pride in special teams now. And me being the quarterback of the punt team, or me just being the leader of the special-teams group, I feel like it's my job to keep in charge of them and make this stuff important. And I feel like there's a lot of guys in there who are feeling this is very important."

* BEYOND THE LINES: Pelini sought out Fresno State quarterback Brandon Connette after the game to wish his mother the best in her fight with cancer.

Pelini was asked in the postgame news conference about the conversation.

"I didn't know the young man, but I had heard about the situation and I just happened to run into him after the game," Pelini said. "I lost a mother to cancer and I've been through it a lot. So when I ran into him, that's the right thing to do. I feel for the young man."

Take a number

27: Nebraska's national rank in punt-return average after Saturday night, which beats the heck out of being 123rd like last year. Averaging 14.1 yards a return after Pierson-El's 86-yard romp to the end zone, the Huskers would probably rank higher, but all the teams in front of them have a smaller sample size of returns. NU has returned more punts (15) than any team in the country the first three weeks. And if you go by punt-return yardage per game, the Huskers rank second nationally, averging 70.3 yards a game, which is more than the 70 yards Nebraska had in all of 2013.

2.9: That was Ameer Abdullah's average yards per rush excluding his 57-yard touchdown run. While Fresno State left itself vulnerable to the big play — Nebraska had 12 offensive plays of at least 15 yards — the Bulldogs didn't give the Husker senior much room to operate in the running game.

90.3: That's how many yards receiving Jordan Westerkamp is averaging after three weeks. His 20.9 average per catch is 33rd nationally among receivers.

Quotes on the run

"Honestly, I think the heat was talked up a little bit. ... It gets hot in Lincoln, too. It's humid in Lincoln, too. Probably more so than here. You just got to play, whether it's playing at Penn State last year (in snow) or playing 100-degree heat out here." — Jake Cotton

"It was a really weird day, to say the very least. I was in my (hotel) room basically watching college football in between going to eat meals or going to my special-teams meetings. It was just a very different day. But the win makes that plane ride home a lot better." — Sam Foltz

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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