Nebraska used a high-powered ground game and a balanced day from quarterback Tommy Armstrong to rough up Florida Atlantic 55-7 in their season opener on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The 784 yards of total offense by the Huskers were good enough for the fifth-best performance in school history, as Nebraska used a record day from senior All-American candidate Ameer Abdullah to dust the Owls in the schools’ second ever meeting.
The Huskers wasted little time in getting on the board, as Armstrong scored on a 5-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the game to put the Big Red up 7-0, capping a 13-play, 86-yard drive. However, the Owls answered with their best drive and only points of the afternoon on the ensuing series, capped off by Lucky Whitehead’s 20-yard touchdown grab from Jaquez Johnson to tie things up at 7-7. From that point forward, it was a game dominated by Nebraska on both sides of the ball.
Armstrong remained cool and collected behind center, guiding the Huskers on a 9-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 36-yard touchdown strike to Jordan Westerkamp to give Nebraska the lead once again at 14-7 with 1:22 left in the first quarter. While allowing 75 yards of offense on the Owls’ scoring drive, Nebraska’s defense settled in and stuffed Florida Atlantic for the final three quarters, giving up a mere 125 yards in the remaining 45 minutes. After a 44-yard field goal from true freshman kicker Drew Brown, Abdullah scored his only touchdown of the day from 47 yards out to put the Huskers ahead 24-7 with 6:29 left before halftime. Imani Cross extended the lead to 31-7 just four minutes later with a 3-yard touchdown run and the rout was on.
Florida Atlantic couldn’t gain any traction on either side of the ball after halftime, as Nebraska dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Terrell Newby capped off a 10-play, 78-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run on the Huskers’ first drive of the third quarter and would add a 8-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to true freshman De’Mornay Pierson-El and a 45-yard field goal from Mauro Bondi to build their lead to 48-7 at the end of the period. Newby would tack on a final 1-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the fourth quarter to provide for the final score and margin at 55-7.
The sophomore Armstrong was an efficient 15-of-29 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to seven carries for 62 yards and another touchdown. Armstrong said his goal heading into the season opener was to lead the offense to the best of his abilities.
“I wanted to be more efficient,” Armstrong said. “Just going out there and playing ball and putting my offense in the right position.”
It also helps to have Abdullah. The senior carried 21 times for 232 yards, eclipsing his previous career best of 225 yards in last season’s 39-19 win over Illinois. Armstrong says Abdullah continues to prove why he’s one of the nation’s premier running backs.
“He is the best back in the nation. I truly believe that,” Armstrong said. “He is going out there and proving to everyone why he should be one of the contenders for one of the best running backs in the country.”
Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp also sparkled for the Nebraska offense, reeling in seven catches for 125 yards and one touchdown. However, it was his highlight reel, behind-the-back catch in the third quarter that had everyone buzzing.
“It was a crazy play. I ran a corner route and I saw the ball get tipped, so I put my hands back and the ball just landed perfectly,” Westerkamp said of the catch.
Bo Pelini was quite impressed with Westerkamp’s grab on an afternoon which left the head coach with much to be happy about.
“I’ve coached a lot of football, but I’ve never seen that one,” Pelini said of Westerkamp’s catch. “To even have the wherewithal to put your hands back there after it’s been tipped, it’s amazing.”
“I’ve always said, he catches everything that’s near him. He showed that right there.”
Nebraska did have an injury concern, as defensive end Randy Gregory played in the first series of the game but did not return after that. Pelini says he is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, but that it was hard to say what his status would be going forward. Despite Gregory’s lengthy absence against Florida Atlantic, the defense allowed only 105 yards rushing and a mere 95 more through the air in a complete victory.
Overall, Pelini was pleased with the opening game for his team.
“I thought it was a really good start in every phase. We got a chance to play a lot of guys, so I was happy about that,” Pelini said. “I saw a lot of good things out there.”
The win is Nebraska’s 29th straight in a season-opening game. Nebraska had 91,441 fans on hand at Memorial Stadium, good enough for the 334th consecutive sellout. The 22nd ranked Huskers host McNeese State next Saturday at 11 a.m. before they head to the road to face Fresno State the following week.