Husker Season Opener: What We Know and What We Don't
Well, he didn't arrive by helicopter like in the 1984 Orange Bowl and he almost needed to leave in a wheelchair after being run over as a play went out of bounds in front of him. Head coach Howard Schnellenberger brought Florida Atlantic into Lincoln as season two of the Bo Pelini era got underway. On the scoreboard, Nebraska crushed the Owls by a score of 49-3.
While that score indicates a complete dismantling of an over-matched Sun Belt Conference football team, FAU was statistically much closer to Nebraska during the contest. You've got questions, we've got (some) answers...and probably a few more questions.
Here's what we learned on Saturday night:
1) Junior quarterback Zac Lee handled his first start with confidence and poise. He is mobile, has a strong, accurate arm and he certainly has a presence on the field. Nebraska needed someone to step up and lead this year with the graduation of Joe Ganz, and it appears that Zac Lee is more than capable of filling that role. There are likely still growing pains coming, but the first test was passed.
2) When Nebraska was winning national championships, it was based on a philosophy of player development and recruiting a few difference makers to take the program over the top. Coach Bo Pelini may have found at least one and possibly two of those difference makers in quarterback Cody Green and running back Rex Burkhead.
Both are freshmen who have risen to No. 2 on the depth chart at their respective positions and each showed flashes against FAU of what the future may hold. Husker fans have a couple of reasons to be excited about the direction of the program for the next few years.
3) The graduation of wide receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson left many questions coming into 2009. We had heard Niles Paul was doing great things in fall camp but beyond that, no one had stepped up. Against FAU, Curenski Gilleylen and Menelik Holt came up big and showed that the cupboard is far from bare.
4) An offseason emphasis on forcing turnovers paid dividends early as Nebraska picked off FAU senior quarterback Rusty Smith twice. The Blackshirts forced three turnovers in the game, something that they must continue to do as the season progresses.
5) Defensive line play was thought to be a Nebraska strength going into the season and they did not disappoint against FAU. All America candidate Ndamukong Suh anchored the front four along with Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner. They did not get as much pressure on the quarterback as you would like to see, but barring injury this unit will continue to be solid.
Here's what we still don't know:
1) How will Zac Lee handle a hostile environment? A huge barometer will be how well he can lead his team into Blacksburg, VA in two weeks.
2) Is Nebraska fast enough defensively? The Huskers have certainly improved athletically and FAU was not devoid of athletes either. However, without seeing top level speed on offense, this still remains a question mark. Again, Virginia Tech on the September 19th will answer this question.
3) Is Nebraska's offensive line capable of handling top line speed? They pushed around FAU pretty well as the Huskers racked up over 250 yards on the ground and they did not give up a sack while protecting Zac Lee. Can they do that consistently against the better teams in the Big 12?
Nebraska hosts another Sun Belt conference team, Arkansas State, next weekend and then it's off to Blacksburg for their first road test of the season. No doubt this team is young, but the Huskers are off to a good start.
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