LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Justice Hansen overthrew Kendrick Edwards in the end zone on the game’s final play, allowing Nebraska to hold off Arkansas State 43-36 in a dramatic season opener Saturday night.
The Cornhuskers and their new 3-4 defense had no answer for Hansen, who threw for 415 yards and three touchdowns, including a 3-yarder to Edwards in the final minute that pulled the Red Wolves of the Sun Belt Conference within seven points.
Arkansas State recovered the onside kick and moved to the Huskers 11 with 9 seconds left. Lamar Jackson broke up a pass in the end zone for Justin McInnis. Hansen then threw too high to Edwards.
Tre’ Bryant ran for a career-high 192 yards and a touchdown and Tanner Lee threw for 238 yards and two scores in his first game for Nebraska.
But new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s unit will draw lots of scrutiny after Hansen shredded it with short passes to the perimeter in the first half and then over the middle in the second. Hansen finished 46 for 68, setting the school record for completions and tying the Nebraska opponent record.
The Huskers tried to put away the game by handing the ball to Bryant in the second half, when he had 114 yards on 18 carries.
Arkansas State: Hansen picked up where he left off last season when he won eight of 10 starts and led the Red Wolves to a fifth Sun Belt Conference title in six years. Four of his receivers caught at least five passes. The defense simply couldn’t handle Bryant, and Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who’s chasing the FBS career sack record, was no factor.
Nebraska: Diaco’s defense will get sliced and diced by the fans after Hansen did the same to it. Lee turned in a solid opening performance, getting the ball out quick and distributing the ball well among his backs and receivers. Bryant clearly answered the question about who is the Huskers’ top back.
Arkansas State closes out its home-and-home series with Miami in Jonesboro. The Hurricanes won the first meeting 41-20 in Miami.
Nebraska plays Oregon for the second straight season, this time in Eugene. The Huskers won 35-32 in Lincoln last year.