LINCOLN — Zac Lee and Roy Helu came, conquered and left things in such good shape Saturday night that their services were no longer needed after three quarters of Nebraska’s first football game.
With all due respect to the Huskers’ starting quarterback and I-back, though, many of the 85,719 at Memorial Stadium stayed glued to their seats for good reason — even with NU leading Florida Atlantic 42-3.
Freshman quarterback Cody Green was going to play the fourth quarter. And freshman I-back Rex Burkhead still had five carries to come.
They were two Texans whose reputations had preceded them, in a good way, to this point.
“It was fun being in there with him,’’ Burkhead said. “We were kind of getting excited when he knew he was coming in and I was going to be in the backfield with him. Kind of a Texas thing, I guess.’’
As two veterans efficiently handled their business in the 49-3 win over Florida Atlantic, their top backups made anticipated debuts. The contributions of all four highlighted a 490-yard effort by Nebraska as it won its season-opening game for the 24th straight year.
Lee? NU coach Bo Pelini said he played the way he has practiced.
Helu? He ran wild after a slow start and totaled 152 yards and three touchdowns.
But the work done and the promise shown by Green and Burkhead had to be appreciated in a sport that can rob you anytime of a starter — as Oklahoma saw Saturday with Sam Bradford.
“You’ve got to have those backup guys,’’ NU receiver Curenski Gilleylen said. “You need somebody to lean on whenever it’s necessary. I’m really happy that we have some guys that can back up Roy and all those other guys who have more experience.’’
Of most importance Saturday night was Lee running the team and Helu running the football. After NU punted on its first possession, it scored touchdowns on five of its next six series.
And, really, Lee and Helu made it possible for Nebraska to dial Green’s number and give Burkhead a little more work. That should only help going forward.
“Anything can happen in the game of football,’’ NU tackle Mike Smith said. “We could need Cody, we could need Rex any day. They’re going to be great players for Nebraska.’’
Both gave a taste of it to the satisfaction of the fans in the 298th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium.
Green made his best first impression with his legs, running 49 yards on a zone-read keeper before finishing his second series with a 1-yard touchdown run. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 18 yards.
Burkhead carried nine times for 39 yards and a touchdown. Already expected to play, he was thrust into a more prominent role with the dismissal of I-back Quentin Castille two weeks ago.
Green said it felt like high school all over again. In fact, he was having flashbacks as he sprinted by the Florida Atlantic bench, putting another dagger in the Owls.
“What high school kids dream of when they get to college,’’ Green said, smiling. “The atmosphere of 85,000 calling your name, it’s something that sends shivers down your spine. To get to go out there and compete like I did today, I’d give the world to do it again.’’
|Yards per carry||3.5||8.1|
Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against Florida Atlantic.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
Nebraska has played 6 games on Sept. 5. See them all »
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