You have to hand it to new offensive coordinator Tim Beck – the Nebraska Huskers did seem to move fast as they trampled the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs 40-7 on Saturday afternoon.
With a flurry of quick passes, triple-option plays and running -- so, so much running -- the Huskers looked like a far cry from the often befuddled group that couldn’t effectively put points on the board in 2010.
There were a lot of questions regarding Nebraska’s unendingly inconsistent offense coming into the first game of the year. Could quarterback Taylor Martinez improve on what could only be described as an interesting freshman campaign? Would running back Rex Burkhead be able to seamlessly transition from backup to starter?
And, of course, would the offensive line -- which had been plagued by injures all preseason long -- be able to protect the aforementioned players as they tried to implement the new, “speedier” plan of attack that Beck promised when he replaced Shawn Watson?
Turns out, the answer to all three questions was a resounding “yes.”
Martinez set the tone for his group all game long, abusing and toying with the Mocs defense from start to finish. When it was all said and done, he racked up 135 yards and three touchdowns through the ground, and passed for another 116 -- on 11 of 22 passing -- yards before bidding adieu to the game in the fourth quarter. His rushing touchdowns came on runs of 7, 43 and 47 yards.
As expected, Burkhead shined in his new role as he put together a solid little 75-yard, one touchdown campaign on what ended up being only 12 carries. Some (read: us) speculated that he’d get something in the realm of 20 carries but, obviously, Bo Pelini and Beck opted to save the hard-nosed running back for what will undoubtedly be a year full of punishment in the grueling Big Ten.
Nevertheless, Burkhead was instrumental in getting the offense into the proper groove as he set up the team’s first touchdown of the day by turning a pitch from Martinez into a massive 52-yard gain. His quarterback, subsequently, would score on the very next play.
Defensively, the Huskers never even game their opponents a chance. Chattanooga quarterback, B.J. Coleman only managed to score on the Nebraska defense once all day long, and even in that instance, it was due far more to an accidental fall by cornerback Andrew Green than any notable problems with the highly-scrutinized secondary. When it was all said and done, Coleman was sacked three times, intercepted once and held him to a 19 of 33, 174-yard day.
That’s not to say the Huskers played a perfect game, though. Martinez had moments of sloppiness and the offense wasn’t continually on the same page, as made explicitly clear by Burkhead actually running into Martinez as the quarterback was trying to set up for a pass on one occasion.
Still, a win is a win, and this squad will take them any way they come in 2011.
With the victory, Nebraska furthered their streak of consecutive wins in opening games to 26 – the longest such streak in the country. This also marked the latest home game when they managed to hold their opponents to less than 11 points – a streak that has been going strong since 2009.
Next up, the Huskers will play the Fresno State Bulldogs on September 10.