The opening weekend of the college football has been amazing. Top 25 teams have been upset and some FBS have dropped games to FCS foes that were likely thought of as tune-ups.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers had their spurts and sputters, but ultimately bested the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers easily. Now that Nebraska’s season opener has been won for an NCAA-leading 25 years straight, some questions have been answered, some still remain and some new ones have arisen.
With a 49-10 victory in the books, just what did Nebraska prove heading into next week’s game versus the Idaho Vandals?
Have you seen this man? If not, he's likely in your end zone.
No one really knew who the starting quarterback would be for Nebraska versus Western Kentucky. While all three quarterbacks did get playing time, one stood out amongst the crowd.
Taylor “T-Magic” Martinez rushed for 129 yards on only seven carries (18.1 YPC) and three touchdowns while going 9-for-15 passing for 136 yards.
Cody Green stepped in and played well given limited snaps throwing the Cornhusker’s only touchdown pass while passing for 66 yards and rushing for 17 more.
Last year’s starter for the majority of the year, Zac Lee barely saw the field.
Martinez startled both defenders and spectators as he made the Hilltoppers defense resemble a carved up Thanksgiving turkey. Green will likely see time again versus Idaho, but Martinez has staked his claim as the starter and no one appears to be able to take that title from him.
Nebraska fans are more used to seeing their 100-yard rushing numbers come from a running back rather than a quarterback as of late. Consider it no surprise that some Cornhuskers may be wondering why Roy Helu, Jr., Rex Burkhead and Dontrayveous Robinson didn’t all come close to cracking the century mark.
No Husker fan should be thinking that their rushing attack is dead after just one game. One should also remember that Burkhead did carry for nearly 11.5 YPC and a touchdown. Helu added to Nebraska’s 49 point total with a score as well.
While “Trey” didn’t get his engine running, new starters on the Cornhuskers’ offensive line were getting their feet wet and normal first game jitters were apparent. It’s also clear that this game was tailor-made to compliment Martinez to the best of his abilities and get some confidence going.
Look for that to happen for the I-backs against the Vandals.
Niles Paul is as entertaining as he is frustrating all within the same game in most instances. He’ll haul in a beautiful catch for a touchdown and then suddenly have a case of the “dropsies.” Such was the case against the Hilltoppers. The jury’s still out on Paul, but there are factors that give him the benefit of the doubt for game one.
Brandon Kinnie stepped up and showed Husker fans that he continued to grow past the Spring Game. Kinnie hauled in six catches for 59 yards. While that statistic may not be astonishing, several times he was thrown to in 2009 and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf.
This was not the case Saturday and with a redshirt freshman playing in his first college game, that’s saying something.
Mike McNeill didn’t have an opportunity to do much. Will Henry’s name was one that no one would have expected to hear over the speakers making a 24-yard catch.
This bunch needs to get in sync with whomever their quarterback is going to be and quickly.
Note the rusher moving around #50? Not good.
Nebraska did a good job up the gut with center Mike Caputo being a fantastic surprise as the anchor for the Cornhuskers’ offensive line. The tackle position, however, appears to be an area of initial concern. Some of Western Kentucky’s speedier rushers were able to get around to the quarterback.
The Cornhuskers also had the benefit of playing a team fielding a defensive line that was in some cases 40 pounds lighter than the man across from them was.
If Nebraska can’t shore up this area of concern, assuming Martinez continues to start, he may end up as a stain on Memorial Stadium’s FieldTurf come conference play.
There are clown-sized shoes to fill and Nebraska fans were brought back down to Earth a bit on Saturday. WKU managed 299 total yards against the Cornhuskers’ defense. 179 of those were on the ground, an area where Nebraska excelled last year thanks to Ndamukong Suh.
In the 2009 season opener, Nebraska struggled a bit versus WKU’s fellow Sun Belt conference member Florida Atlantic as the Owls put up 358 total yards on Nebraska. Both the secondary and the rush defense tightened up as the season went on.
While Crick doesn’t exactly look like Suh 2.0, he did lay the wood to WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes and running back Bobby Rainey. He finished the day with six tackles and a quarterback hurry. Baker Steinkuhler and Terrence Moore didn’t quite show the “pop” that Crick did opposite Suh.
Defensive ends Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith proved difficult for WKU to contain. Meredith exited the game with an undisclosed injury. The line looked decent during the first half, but started to give a decent amount to the Hilltopper offensive line in the second half. Bo Pelini likes his defense.
Expect some stadium stairs to be ran.
If there was one name heard when the Blackshirts took the field, it was that of LaVonte David. The JUCO transfer terrorized Western Kentucky’s offense tallying 13 tackles (five solo). In his first game as a Cornhusker, David showed that if he continues progressing in Pelini’s defense, he will be a star.
Other linebackers such as Alfonzo Whaley, Eric Martin and Mark May struggled at times with pass coverage, bit on fakes and gave far too much after the initial tackle.
Nebraska’s 4-2-5 “Peso” defense gives them the luxury of not needing three linebackers, but David needs a partner to cause havoc for the Blackshirts. If he gets one that shares his natural ability and instinct, expect your regularly scheduled Bo Pelini defense to return to the field soon.
120 yards passing isn’t going to win you a lot of football games barring your rushing attack shouldering the load. Nebraska accomplished this feat on Saturday. Unfortunately, Western Kentucky couldn’t match it.
Western Kentucky’s 12-for-22 passing day with one interception-turned-fumble by P.J. Smith showed that the Hilltoppers did their homework, but had to try.
Prince Amukamara was avoided like the plague. DeJon Gomes is still a ball hawk. Smith, Rickey Thenarse, Eric Haag and Alfonzo Dennard all made receivers earn their yardage. Nebraska even dipped down into the well to their third-string cornerback in Ciante Evans.
Nebraska’s secondary is in no danger of losing their elite status any time soon.
Nebraska fans were treated to a little bit of everything during Nebraska’s 49-10 victory. A glimpse of life after Ndamukong Suh was bittersweet, offensive line depth is nice to have back, if not yet in sync, and Nebraska has a potential dynamo under center.
All in all for the Cornhuskers, it was a season opener that continues to inspire hope, tempers a few expectations and finally gives head coach Bo Pelini something to work with. Pelini is never happy until everything is perfect. It’s a blessing and a curse.
He remains vigilant about “Year Three.” He should be. For the moment, it appears 2010 may end up T-Magical for Nebraska yet.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @bcbleacherrep