LINCOLN, Neb. — For the first 15 minutes Saturday, the Utah State Aggies looked like one of the best teams in the country. In the final 45 they looked liked the worst.
It took 23rd-ranked Nebraska a quarter to figure out what Utah State was doing offensively. For the next three quarters it was all Cornhuskers.
Nebraska trailed by a point at the end of the first quarter but reeled off 25 unanswered points in posting the 31-7 victory at a sold-out Memorial Stadium.
Utah State quarterback Travis Cox was a splendid 13-for-15 for 132 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. He had completions to four different receivers.
"It went exactly to form," Cox said. "Everyone played well and we were playing together. They started getting to us a little bit at the end of the first half."
Utah State (0-2) drove inside the Nebraska 20 on its first drive but lost the ball on a 4th-and-2. Cox was 6-for-6 to that point until Chris Cooley dropped the first-down ball.
Later, Cooley made amends with a 41-yard catch for Utah State's only touchdown. He recorded five catches for 85 yards in the half. He had only one more catch the rest of the way.
Early in the second quarter, the 'Huskers clamped down defensively and turned a 7-6 deficit to an eight-point lead, and they never trailed again.
Nebraska's Demorrio Williams forced a Cox fumble with a sack, and then he recovered it on the Utah State one-yard line.
One play after Williams' sack, Judd Davies scored on a 1-yard plunge.
The play before the sack, Utah State was whistled for an illegal shift, which negated a first-down play.
On Utah State's first play after the kickoff, Williams blindsided Cox again, forcing another fumble, and nine plays later, David Dyches drilled a 23-yard field goal.
"I can still feel him (Williams)," Cox said after the game. "He was the best player on the field tonight."
Williams finished with eight tackles and three sacks for a minus-27 yards.
"The most obvious adjustments they made were no X's and O's decisions but a personnel decision. No. 7 (Demorrio Williams), we don't have a player like him," Utah State coach Mick Dennehy said. "He's a difference-maker, and those two turnovers he caused were a major, major difference in this game."
The Aggies compiled 145 yards in the first half and had trouble equaling that mark in the final 45 minutes. The Aggies had just 93 total yards in the remainder of the game.
"We knew we could get some things on them if they were in certain coverages," Cox said. "They were in that coverage and we got it. It didn't take them long to figure out what we were going to do."
Cox was 2-of-6 for 15 yards, but the Aggies finished with just seven yards total offense in the second quarter.
"They did such a great job early on throwing short, controlled patterns," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said. "It seems like when we are able to get to the quarterback and get some hits, all of a sudden it gets a little tougher to make throws. Demorrio had a great game for the second week in a row."
The Aggies had the ball inside the Nebraska 35 two times in the first half. One drive resulted in the loss of downs, and the other ended when back-up quarterback Matt Crivello — from a lateral — threw an interception. Utah State recovered a fumble one play earlier, putting the Aggies in prime scoring position.
The offensive woes continued for Utah State in the second half. Cox was 0-for-8, and the Aggies rushed for just 25 yards and earned just one first down with only 14 plays on the third. They had the ball just over nine minutes in the second half.
Spanning parts of three quarters, Cox failed to get a completion on 12 straight passes. In the second half alone, he was just 2-of-12 for 31 yards.
After Nebraska scored on its first possession of the second half on a David Horne 3-yard run to cap a 74-yard drive, Utah State, after three plays, was forced to punt from their end zone.
After a 30-yard return along with a face-mask penalty, the 'Huskers had a first-and-goal at the Utah State seven. It resulted in a 20-yard field goal by Dyches.
"We gave them a couple of short-field opportunities in the third quarter that were very, very difficult to recover from," Dennehy said.
Dyches, who made just four field goals in high school last year, kicked four Saturday.
Although the Aggie defense allowed 405 total yards, they held the 'Huskers to four field goals, and late in the game they forced a turnover on the one-yard line to negate another potential score.