Todd Neeley, August 31, 2014
LINCOLN — I remember these kind of Nebraska games when I was a kid — by the third quarter the only reason you continued to tune in to Lyle Bremser is to know the final total yardage tally for NU. Numbers sound more important on radio. But Nebraska's 784 total yards against Florida Atlantic has a nice ring to it.
Yet relying on numbers to tell the story in sports journalism is a slippery slope. We've seen so many big-number games at Memorial Stadium across the decades, but perhaps few as important as what we saw from I-back Ameer Abdullah — 232 yards rushing on 21 carries and a touchdown.
Yeah, there have been bigger rushing performances in Lincoln, but face it, as Abdullah goes in 2014, so goes Nebraska.
Though it was the kind of game you'd expect in a home opener — inconsistent and sloppy at times — you came away from Nebraska's 55-7 win over Florida Atlantic in Lincoln Saturday wondering just how this team will match up against better competition.
Like I said, numbers can be deceiving. One thing is for real though — Abdullah.
The Owls won't be mistaken for the Green Bay Packers anytime soon, and neither should this Nebraska team. But NU could have stayed with the running game all day long and still put up big numbers against an FAU defense that was mismatched up front.
Sorry to say this amounted to little more than a dress rehearsal for Nebraska. There will be bigger fish to fry.
What we do know is Nebraska will need to rely heavily on Abdullah to put in long work days on the field. This is especially true early on while Armstrong finds his way and a young offensive line learns to gel. Armstrong will have his ups and downs — perfectly normal for a young player.
Abdullah has a way of making offensive lines look good and defenses look mismatched — that's what we saw Saturday.
It mattered little which side of the line Abdullah ran behind, the senior running back was clearly playing in a higher gear than we've seen at any time in his career. I'm not ready to hand him the Heisman Trophy just yet, but No. 8 made things look easy and clearly is the heart and soul of this team. Abdullah had 178 yards rushing at half, 223 midway through the third quarter. That's impressive. It doesn't matter the competition, rushing north of 200 yards in Division I is special.
Suddenly the top of the career rushing chart at Nebraska seems inevitable for Abdullah, barring injury. With the news that All-American Randy Gregory is injured — though the extent of the injury not known and Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini said he's "day-to-day" — Abdullah's stock rises exponentially. NU should give him 20 to 25 carries a game, simply because he's the best player on the field — maybe the best in the Big Ten.
To offensive coordinator Tim Beck and those coaches who believe you have to be multiple in this day and age of college football, I say rubbish.
Abdullah's off-season work has paid huge dividends — he's stronger, faster and a big handful to opposing defenses — so I say continue to pound the rock. Armstrong still appears to be a bit out of his element in the passing game, though without a doubt his arm strength is good and he seemed more comfortable in the pocket than he did one year ago. If Saturday is any indication of where the sophomore quarterback stands, he has a ways to go.
Speaking of numbers, another stands out like a neon sign — zero turnovers. The turnover bug has so many times killed Nebraska drives under Pelini, but for a first game this is an eye-popper.
At times Armstrong missed wide open receivers, either under throwing or over-throwing.
Other times he hit the long ball — including a 63-yard bomb to Kenny Bell in the third quarter. As play-calling goes, Beck showed flashes Saturday of a guy who may be getting a better feel for the game. Still, even though Abdullah was ripping off big runs, Beck often went away from the run altogether — putting Nebraska in third and long at times when it wasn't necessary.
When Armstrong operated the zone read he was effective running the ball inside the FAU 20-yard line. So he has the making of a complete player, but I'll hold judgment until weeks three and four.
For now, we'll bask in a good, old-fashioned butt whipping at Memorial Stadium — at least that's what the final numbers show.