The Nebraska Cornhuskers kicked off the 2011 college football season with a 40-7 win over the UT-Chattanooga Mockingbirds, and here we'll analyze the positives and negatives of the game.
Taylor Martinez's sophomore debut may have been disappointing to many in terms of passing, but was it as bad as it seems?
The defense was dominant but looked slightly vulnerable at times. Is it anything to be concerned about?
Will the loss of Alex Henery be as devastating as originally thought?
Where was the dominance we should have seen from the offensive line, and will it get better?
These questions and more will be answered as the Huskers prepare to fix their mistakes and take on what should be a much more formidable team in Fresno State next week.
Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense started the day off slowly, but once they got into the swing of it, they did all right for the most part.
Martinez was 11-of-22 for 116 yards passing and added 135 yards and three touchdowns rushing on 19 carries.
While the sophomore showed some inconsistency, there was a clear difference between the Martinez of 2010 and the Martinez of 2011. For the most part, he made much smarter decisions and looked calmer and more confident altogether.
His passing was much better too, even though the stats don't show it. Four dropped balls murdered Martinez's completion percentage and stalled some drives that the speedster was putting together.
Brion Carnes came in halfway through the fourth quarter and, while he showed some flashes, also showed why he's the second-stringer.
I'll put it this way: Taylor Martinez did nothing to suggest he shouldn't be starting. If he doesn't distribute the ball more, however, he may take one too many lumps and get injured. That has to be avoided at all costs, because Carnes did not look ready to lead this offense yet.
The running backs didn't have a great day statistically, but since Martinez did most of the work himself on the ground, that isn't surprising.
Rex Burkhead led the charge with 75 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while the three freshmen combined for just 20 yards on nine carries.
Burkhead looks ready to lead this offense, but he needs to touch the ball more than 11 times, and more importantly, the coaches must give him the ball between the tackles, which is where he's best.
Ameer Abdullah, Aaron Green and Braylon Heard got very little work and, like Burkhead, need to get more touches.
Abdullah flashed brilliance at punt returner and will continue to work at that spot in addition to kick-off returner. The Huskers could be very formidable in the return game.
In all honesty, Nebraska's receivers did not have a good day.
Throughout the spring and fall, Husker pass catchers repeatedly said they wanted to be a strength of the team, but it didn't look that way against Chattanooga.
As I stated before, Martinez's completion percentage was murdered by four drops, two by seasoned veteran Brandon Kinnie.
True sophomore Quincy Enunwa had a nice day, catching four passes for 58 yards after recording just one reception all year in 2010, but he also had a drop.
Electric true freshman Jamal Turner was guilty of the fourth drop, but flashed his potential on a fourth-quarter pass from Brion Carnes, a short stop route that Turner turned into a 19-yard gain (and nearly broke for a touchdown).
Tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton each logged a reception, but neither was targeted much.
When it's all said and done, the receivers must eliminate the drops if this offense is to be formidable, especially against good defenses.
Much like the receivers, today was not the offensive line's day.
The Huskers were very inconsistent up front and didn't dominate Chattanooga's undersized defensive line like they should have been able to.
On plays that stretched to the outside, multiple Mocs defenders were there to stop the Huskers for a loss more times than not.
At this point, the inconsistencies can be attributed to youth and lack of chemistry. Two of the five starters had never played a down of college football, and the overall youth may have been a big reason for the struggles.
Regardless, the Husker O-line must develop chemistry and consistency if this offense is to go anywhere.
Okay, so nobody's ever going to forget about the legendary Mr. Henery, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history.
But junior Brett Maher did a lot to make fans effectively move past Henery's graduation. The Kearney, Neb., product made all four of his field goals, including two from 48 and 50 yards out, and all of his kick-offs and punts were boomers.
Nebraska's kicking game was a big question mark coming into the season, but it seems that question has been answered.
As bad as Nebraska's offensive line played, the defensive line was the polar opposite.
There were some holes for Chattanooga running backs at times, but for the most part, the front four were dominant.
Built less for power and more for speed, Nebraska's D-line is tailor-made for putting pressure on the quarterback, and while an offense will get an occasional 10- or 15-yard gain on the ground, guys like Jared Crick and Cameron Meredith make up for it with sacks.
Meredith finished the day with two sacks and added an interception, while Crick had a solid day in his own right.
The unproven defensive ends played solid football as well. Overall, the Blackshirts' line looks like a force to be reckoned with.
Behind the big four up front, Nebraska's linebackers quietly had a nice night. Lavonte David made some impressive tackles, while a surprising young walk-on named Trevor Roach turned more than a few heads.
The one thing I saw from the linebackers that concerned me was their pass coverage.
They got beaten for some moderate gains several times and seemed unable to adjust to the bubble routes that Chattanooga's running backs repeatedly ran.
At this point, I'm chalking it up to normal first-game mistakes and expect next week's defense to play much better.
The Cornhusker secondary looked vulnerable at times in this game, but in the absence of Alfonzo Dennard, that wasn't a huge surprise.
Ciante Evans had a quiet night; Chattanooga seemed to stay away from the sophomore.
Andrew Green played admirably in Dennard's place, but the Mocs' lone touchdown came on a pass to his side when he slipped and left the receiver wide open.
At safety, the Huskers look solid and very deep. Starters Austin Cassidy and Courtney Osborne played as good as expected, and JUCO transfer Daimion Stafford had a great game highlighted by a monstrous hit on a Chattanooga running back.
PJ Smith, Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson got in on the action as well, and all three looked good.
Once Dennard gets back, teams will not want to mess with this secondary.
Nebraska's play on offense was very inconsistent overall. The Huskers have a ton of speed, and the potential for being a great offense is there. But the first-year system will inevitably take its lumps, and this game showed that.
Nebraska must iron out the wrinkles in a hurry, because games against Fresno State and Washington will not be as easy as many think, and that contest at Camp Randall Stadium with the high-powered Wisconsin Badgers looms large.
Taylor Martinez has most definitely matured and should only continue to get better, but the receivers and offensive line will have to help him out.
The Blackshirts weren't quite as dominant as may have been expected, but all things considered, there are no major worries on this side of the ball.
Cameron Meredith has all the makings of a dominant pass rusher to complement Jared Crick, while Lavonte David looks as good as ever, and the rest of the defense seems to be coming along nicely.
Nebraska's safety position might be the single deepest defensive position group in college football, and the addition of Alfonzo Dennard will greatly improve the already-respectable play of the cornerbacks.
Good thing, because based on the offense's first-year growing pains, there will be times when the defense will have to carry the Cornhuskers.