Game Rewind: Blackshirts make a statement
For one drive, the 2014 version of the Nebraska defense looked eerily similar to the unit that kicked off the 2013 campaign… and that's not a compliment.
After giving up 602 yards to Wyoming in last season's opener, the Huskers defense solidified over the course of the season and, due to a good amount of potential and exciting young talent, had many believing this was Bo Pelini's best defense since the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Then Florida Atlantic went 75 yards in 11 plays and scored a touchdown on their first possession, bringing up some brutal memories. Had the 2014 version been overhyped? Was this unit be more remembered by potential than production?
Those worries were dispelled loudly and quickly.
The Owls didn't score again, and just two of their final 11 drives lasted more than three plays. Their final 49 plays resulted in just 125 yards.
"The thing I was most pleased with regardless of the final score or any of the other statistics was after that drive, that didn't faze them," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "We learned from it. We corrected some things we wanted to get corrected, and from there it was pretty much lockdown defense.
"I was proud of them for that, because it could have rattled them a year ago. That showed the maturity of maybe where we are."
The Nebraska defense will obviously face much more difficult tests this season, but it made a strong statement with the way it rebounded Saturday afternoon. Like so many games in 2013, the unit struggled early and had a chance to go south. Instead, the Blackshirts rebounded and kicked the stuffing out of the once-confident FAU offense.
One game doesn't make a season. But it can certainly hint at good things to come.
On with the rewind...
Five defining moments
Armstrong's touchdown run on the opening drive: Nebraska's opening drive was everything the Huskers could have hoped for (minus the penalties) - a 13-play, 86-yard masterpiece capped off with a tough run by Armstrong. Nebraska ran 10 times and imposed its will early on.
Armstrong's 36-yard scoring pass to Westerkamp: Roommates and good friends, Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp appear to have developed a killer relationship over the offseason. Armstrong hit a wide-open Westerkamp down the seam for this first-quarter score, just one of seven catches for Westerkamp on the day.
Abdullah's 47-yard touchdown run: Midway through the second quarter, Abdullah took a handoff to the right, ripped through a weak tackle attempt and sprinted untouched the rest of the way for a 47-yard score. If Abdullah is indeed going to be a dark-horse contender for the Heisman this year, he's off to a heck of a start.
Brown's 44-yard field goal: The field goal kicking during the portions of fall practice opener to the media wasn't always encouraging, but Drew Brown got his career off to a great start. Early in the second quarter, Brown drilled a 44-yard boot. The true freshman sank all of his six extra points, and backup kicker Mauro Bondi hit a 45-yarder later. What was a major question mark in fall camp looked great, for one game at least.
Armstrong's 63-yard completion to Bell: This third-quarter play was the icing on the cake. Armstrong, who has struggled with the deep ball in the past, uncorked a long pass to Kenny Bell, who hauled it in over double coverage. That completion set up an eight-yard touchdown to De'Mornay Pierson-El, the freshman's first career catch.
Ameer Abdullah: The senior got off to a bit of a slow start, rushing for 19 yards on six carries on NU's first drive. But he exploded from there, finishing with a career-high 232 yards. Abdullah has nine carries of 10 or more yards.
Greg McMullen: Randy Gregory wasn't needed Saturday, and McMullen's play was a big reason why. The sophomore defensive end finished with four tackles (two for loss) and half a sack, but he was far more disruptive than the stats show. Florida Atlantic's right tackle will be seeing McMullen in his nightmares for some time.
Jordan Westerkamp: Westerkamp could make this section for one play alone - his behind-the-back catch for 16 yards on a tipped pass in the third quarter. The sophomore set career highs with seven receptions and 125 yards.
By the numbers
18: Career 100-yard rushing games by Abdullah, good for third-most in school history. Only Ahman Green (20) and Mike Rozier (26) have more.
137: Career catches by Kenny Bell. The senior had three receptions Saturday, moving him past Terrence Nunn and Marlon Lucky to third on NU's all-time list.
2: Nebraska wideouts with more than 100 receiving yards against FAU (Westerkamp and Bell). The Huskers had a total of two 100-yard receiving games all last year.
29: Consecutive season openers won by Nebraska, the longest current streak in the nation. 28 of those wins have come by nine or more points.
They said it
"I think it just was the fact that we hadn't been out there for a while and it was the first drive. We needed to get used to the game again."
-Linebacker Zaire Anderson on how the defense improved so dramatically after FAU's first drive
"It was a long journey, yes, but I've always had the support of the players and coaches here. It was always going to be a tough thing and you're always going to face adversity in life. It's something I learned and it's something I want to teach to my children young day, and to other athletes."
-Offensive tackle Alex Lewis on the growth he's experienced since transferring from Colorado and serving a short jail sentence this summer
"He does the right things. He's assignment-sound, and he's relentless in his pursuit of the ball. I like the way Jack plays in a lot of ways. Because he walked on, I think people kind of see him as a wild card that kind of came out of nowhere. But the way he's performed, I think he's every bit as good as a the defensive ends on scholarship."
-Papuchis on the play of defensive end Jack Gangwish
Biggest question/concern: What can NU do for an encore?
The Huskers left no doubt Saturday, absolutely obliterating an overmatched FAU team. There is no reason to expect anything different against McNeese State next week, but then things will get interesting. A game at Fresno State (at a very late time for Nebraska), a home meeting with Miami and a trip to Michigan State in three of the next four games will be far more telling than Saturday's blowout. But for one week at least, Nebraska can bask in the wake of one of its most dominant openers in recent memory. And with so many Big Ten teams struggling this weekend, NU's postseason aspirations got a bit of a boost.