LINCOLN — Efficient. Explosive. Impressive. Historic. Nebraska's offense blasted its way to a modern-era Big Ten record and its defense blitzed through first-quarter glitches as if they were that new, wispy Tunnel Walk smoke that trailed the team's entrance onto the field.
The suits in NU's athletic department added the smoke, revamped sound system and post-touchdown fireworks to excite fans in Saturday's season opener, but the Huskers' on-field sizzle sold itself in a 55-7 rout of Florida Atlantic.
Nebraska rolled up 784 total yards of offense — fifth best in school history and best ever for a Big Ten team in the modern era. Ameer Abdullah ran for a career-high 232 yards. Tommy Armstrong threw for a career-high 271 yards. Jordan Westerkamp had a career-high 125 yards and, what the heck, caught a ball behind his back while tiptoeing the sidelines. Circus stuff.
"Lucky play," Westerkamp said sheepishly.
"I've never seen that one," coach Bo Pelini said.
"ESPN, right?" offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. "Probably be one of those, that's for sure."
Yep, it was that kind of a party, a breeze, a wine spritzer on the deck. Nebraska has won 29 straight season openers, and few have been as lopsided as this one. And for a man often besieged with offseason critiques, Beck had the controls of an offense that overcame early penalties and whipped the Owls every which way.
Deep passes? Kenny Bell caught two of those and dropped another. Long runs? Abdullah ripped off a 47-yard touchdown and Terrell Newby had a 43-yarder. Efficiency? The Huskers scored on their first five possessions, converted 8 of 12 third downs into first downs and turned all five red zone trips into touchdowns. Beck's unit held the ball for nearly 34 minutes. Ran 92 plays and averaged 8.52 yards on each. The line didn't give up a sack and the backs didn't cough up a fumble.
There were early blocking penalties that Beck chalked up to players not moving their feet well enough, and the Huskers botched a two-minute drill at the end of a seemingly endless first half when Armstrong spiked a ball with less than three seconds on the game clock.
But those were quibbles. A slimmed-down playbook and a new practice regimen seemed to work rather well in the heat.
"We simplified a little bit," Beck said. "I think the guys knew the plan a little better and went out and executed it. There weren't a lot of surprises and we were able to make a few adjustments on things. We just went out there and played."
Said Armstrong: "I feel like we handled ourselves the right way."
Certainly Abdullah did. In front of 91,441 fans at Memorial Stadium, he averaged 11 yards per carry and looked every bit the back he was in 2013 -- and then some. His signature run Saturday was the 47-yard touchdown, when he slipped one tackler and chugged freely to the end zone. Earlier on that touchdown drive, he corralled a wayward option pitch with one hand. Nebraska found success on sweep plays outside the hash marks, Abdullah picking his way through perimeter blockers, dancing around tacklers. He eluded the press afterward, as well.
"He went out there to prove something," Armstrong said. "Plain and simple. He went out there and played his ball. He hit the holes the right way, made people miss, and that's the same Ameer we saw last year."
Initially, Nebraska's defense struggled like it did in the 2013 opener, as FAU (0-1) scored easily on its first possession, converting two third downs. Owl quarterback Jaquez Johnson flipped a screen pass to Lucky Whitehead, who ran 20 yards for a touchdown. Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis said Nebraska struggled to adjust to FAU's tempo on the first drive.
"We certainly didn't want it to take us giving up a score to adjust," Papuchis said.
"That first drive wasn't acceptable at all," sophomore tackle Vincent Valentine said. Worse, defensive end Randy Gregory got injured in the first quarter and sat out most of the game, forcing Wood River walk-on Jack Gangwish into action.
Advantage, FAU? Not quite. Over the Owls' last 11 drives, they gained 125 yards.
"Once we understood the tempo — and the issues that accompanied it — we did a much better job," Papuchis said.
"We adjusted way quicker than we would have last year," Valentine said. "Guys are older, more experienced, they know what they're doing and what we have to do to stop guys."
"It was three-and-out after three-and-out," said Whitehead, the FAU wideout.
Johnson, FAU's quarterback, was hurt in the second quarter, and backup Greg Hankerson apparently had free rein to throw it into the teeth of NU's secondary. He completed five passes all game -- for 34 yards. Until the fourth quarter, the Owls regarded running the ball as a quaint notion, lengthening the game with incompletions and each clock stoppage.
"It seemed like that third quarter went on for about eight hours," Pelini said.
That gave Nebraska (1-0) the time to churn out yards and empty its bench. Like old times, when the lone source of entertainment was the product on the field. The Huskers delivered that -- and will be heavily favored to do it again next weekend against McNeese State.
But the romp came with a caveat from Pelini. Stow it away for a few weeks.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," he said. "I think we beat a football team we were supposed to beat."
|Yards per carry||3.5||8.7|
Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against Florida Atlantic.
|Florida Atlantic||Aug. 30|
|McNeese State||Sept. 6|
|Fresno State||Sept. 13|
|Miami (FL)||Sept. 20|
|Michigan State||Oct. 4|
Nebraska has played 5 games on Aug. 30. See them all »
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