Disappointing would have to be the best way to describe tonight's season opening game for the Omaha Nighthawks, who lost to Marty Schottenheimer's Virginia Destroyers 23-13. Four turnovers and a bunch of penalties sunk the Nighthawks tonight, who actually didn't look too bad when they weren't self-destructing. Eric Crouch started the game, but split the snaps with former Oregon and Ole' Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith apparently was inactive; he was on the sideline in uniform sans helmet. The most surprising element of the new Nighthawks offense was the lack of running plays by the backs; the offense seemed to be based on quick throws by the quarterbacks out of a pistol or shotgun formation. Of the two quarterbacks, I sensed that Crouch was a slightly better passer downfield, though Masoli was deadly on rollouts. Crouch threw one interception that seemed to be a miscommunication between him and his receiver; Masoli threw two interceptions including a bad read. Crouch also fumbled the ball on a fourth down play when a motion back seemed to knock the ball out of his hands on the fake handoff.
Virginia's offense was much more efficient statistically, relying on a dink-and-dunk attack of slants and inside screens that the Nighthawks struggled to defend until the Destroyers reached the red zone. Former Husker Jay Moore blew up a third down play at the goal line by fighting through a block to batt down a Chris Greisen pass. Perhaps that was a tactical decision by Schottenheimer to go with a simpler offense; if so, it paid off because the Destroyers were more consistent in their execution tonight. That may not necessarily be the case in the rematch in late October.
The other disappointing aspect of the game was the size of the crowd. Officially announced at 15,836, I'd estimate the crowd at closer to 10,000 tonight. It was a fairly loud crowd, but it's not the type of crowd that encourages the UFL to return in 2012. And that's a shame because football is a good, bonus use of TD Ameritrade Park in the fall. Yes, the sightlines at Ameritrade aren't the best for football, and surprisingly, the modern digital scoreboards are ill-suited for America's game. But like during the spring and summer, the area around the Park came alive with activity. It's just a great place to hold events. But I worry that if more people don't come out in October, it might be the death sentence for outdoor professional football in Omaha.
Footnote: Regular visitors may notice a new template here at Blasphemy. Not sure what happened, but a recent Blogger upgrade seemed to wipe out the old design as well as broke a lot of links. Hopefully everything is working again. Not sure when I'll have a chance to clean things up further, but it appears to be functional, if not a little bland.