Game, Set, Match: Blackshirts.
The Huskers played the Owls pretty much straight up, rushing four, occasionally mixing in some nickel and even a little dime coverage, but almost no blitzing. While the Owls got some yards, they never cracked the endzone. In fact, Smith, the presumed NFL draft prospect, might have been the fourth best quarterback on the field today. Junior Jeff VanCamp looked better due to his mobility, as did Zac Lee and true freshman Cody Green. Lee was a little shaky early, but was efficient managing the offense. Want some quibbles with his performance? On a third down rollout, he fired a pass into coverage that was dropped when he could have easily scrambled for the first down and many more yards. A couple of passes were thrown behind receivers, as well as a misfired pass that ended up being interception. But not a bad performance for his first real game action since junior college.
The defense didn't sack Smith or VanCamp, but did get some pressure to disrupt the Owl passing game. My initial reaction of Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler is that the defensive line should be just fine this season... in fact, the improved depth allowed Suh, Pierre Allen, and Barry Turner to take breaks. Linebacker play was fairly solid, with Will Compton catching my eyes more than once. The secondary held up well, with only minimal busts and picking off two Smith passes.
Offensively, I initially was disappointed by the play of the line, though many others point out that the Owls stuffed the line with eight men in the box. Considering the lack of experience on the Owl defense, combined with their performance last season, I expected more. Perhaps I had excessive expectations for the line. Roy Helu exploded in the 2nd half, rushing for 152 yards on just 16 carries tonight...oh and three touchdowns as well. Rex Burkhead, while maybe not quite Clark Kent just yet, provided a nice spark when he came into the game. His play, combined with Cody Green's nifty Frazier-esque rumble in the fourth quarter, should quiet those recruitniks who still complain about the recruiting ability of this staff.
Another player that caught my eye tonight was Curenski Gilleylen. People will remember the circus catch after the bobble, but what really impressed me was his block on Menelik Holt's touchdown reception.
All told, it was a pretty good season opener. Plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the team and the season, yet also plenty of things for the coaches to work on and improve. At some point, we'll need to see Zac Lee try to stretch the field with his arm, but that wasn't required tonight. It's good to know that Nebraska can keep things pretty vanilla and still rack up a 49-3 victory.
Howard Schnellenberger gave props to Bo Pelini in his postgame press conference:
"I think it's a team that has about the best coach that I've been around lately."
"I think they have some very good players, but I don't think they're overly talented," Schnellenberger added (and this stuff is very interesting to me). "I think the sum of the parts is a lot greater than the individual talent they have, and that's a compliment, it's not to take anything away from them.
"They play hard, they run hard, they block hard, they tackle hard, and they're a very physical football team. I'm sure they went into halftime concerned about how they had looked against us. They put it into overdrive, and I asked our guys to put it into overdrive, and we didn't have enough juice in the tank."
A good start for the Big Red; the first time the Huskers held a team to three points since Kansas State 2006. Oklahoma suddenly looks mortal after apparently losing Sam Bradford for a period of time. Missouri's victory was impressive, making that matchup more intriguing than Husker fans were originally thinking. But by that same factor, the Big Ten generally got exposed as a glorified MAC. Ohio State was lucky to hold off Navy, and Kevin Cosgrove's defense made Greg Paulus' transition back to football much easier.
The upgrades at the stadium looked impressive as well. The red facade on the skyboxes was striking, giving it almost a Rose Bowl air. HuskerVision looks wonderful in High-Def, and the tunnel walk is the best ever, as far as I'm concerned.