Arkansas State will be coming to Lincoln Saturday, Sept. 2, with plenty of momentum.
After starting the season 0-4 in 2016, the Red Wolves went 7-1 on the year, becoming co-champions of the Sun Belt Conference and romping the University of Central Florida 31-14 in the AutoNation Cure Bowl.
Former four-star Oklahoma recruit Justice Hansen will be under center for ASU after going 8-2 as a starter last season. Hansen threw for 2,719 yards and 19 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. He will have plenty of targets to throw to including senior receivers Dijon Paschal, Christian Booker and Chris Murray.
In a press conference Monday, football coach Mike Riley said Arkansas State’s receiving corps might cause a problem for the Huskers.
“Defensively, they have got a good defense and they are anchored by a guy that has had a ton of sacks in his career, and we want to do everything we can to not add to that total,” Riley said in the press conference.
That “guy” would be the Sun Belt Conference player of the year Ja’von Rolland-Jones. Among active players, Rolland-Jones leads the nation in career sacks with 30.5 and posted 1.26 tackles for loss per game.
Rolland-Jones, just 13.5 sacks away from Terrell Suggs’ NCAA record of 44 career sacks, will be looking to jumpstart his senior season against a Nebraska O-line that feels like they have something to prove.
“I see a good defense… a great defensive line,” said NU quarterback Tanner Lee in the same press conference. “They had a nice little streak of wins last year, so they’re going to come into this season confident and ready to make a statement and they’re nothing we take lightly. You know we are excited for this challenge and I think they are a good first opponent.”
Tanner Lee is beginning the season as Nebraska’s first new starting quarterback for the first time in four years following Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s graduation. Lee, a Tulane transfer, has impressed pro scouts thus far.
Stanley Morgan Jr. and De’Mornay Pierson-El both look to be featured heavily in the passing game, providing Lee with experience and speed at the receiver position.
With three running backs listed on the first team depth chart, Devine Ozigbo, Mikale Wilbon and Tre Bryant all return to carry their share of the workload on the ground.
Nebraska also has new defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco. After three seasons as the head coach of the University of Connecticut, he’s brought a new 3-4 defensive formation with him to Lincoln. Diaco has been working to implement his formation with a team that has never tried such a tactic before.
“I think that first off what Bob did is study the players on the team as much as he could physically, gathered as much information as he could and did a very thoughtful job of the placement of players,” Riley said in the press conference. “There’s a profile in the 3-4 defense as there is in every defense, but he has a very specific idea of what the profile of a guy looks like at each position.”
The game will broadcast on BTN and BTN2 on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 7 p.m.