It wasn't the Roy Helu Jr. Show again this week. Instead, It was Zac Lee's time to shine.
Meanwhile the Blackshirts played better in some aspects, worse in others.
Not to oversimplify things, but having watched the game twice and knowing that many of you watched it also and/or read recaps and commentaries of the game, I'm going to break the game down into what I think are the salient points.
Note-I never read any media reports on the week's game until after I write my blog, so as not to color my perception. I only check stats.
Before I examine the forensics of Nebraska's latest win, I have an admission to make: I hardly knew anything about Arkansas State. I know that they shocked the Aggies in College Station last year and that they beat Mississippi Valley State, 61-0, in the first week of this season. And yes, Mississippi Valley State is what we would have formerly called a Division I-AA school. However, despite the disparity in talent, anytime a team shuts out another by sixty-one points that's saying something. So to reiterate, I didn't know what to expect from the Red Wolves, but I still expected a comfortable win by the Huskers. And that's what we got.
Comfortable, but not particularly impressive.
Even though the Huskers punched in their first score in just over three minutes and jumped out to a 21-0 lead (which should have been 28-0, see below), Coach Pelini, ever the perfectionist, thought his team could play better.
Especially considering that the Huskers have a date in Blacksburg in less than a week, and while the Hokies lost in week one to Alabama, they more than took care of business against Marshall, albeit a Marshall team that squeaked out a three-point victory a week before against Southern Illinois.
So what do we really know? Practically nothing. I don't think it's any big secret that Pelini and his OC, Shawn Watson, haven't shown their team's full potential against two decidedly inferior opponents. We do know that Alabama left a blueprint on how to beat Tech, but we don't know if the Huskers have the talent to execute it.
Besides, all of this is a topic for another day, a day very soon.
So, here are my observations of the Arkansas State Game:
Zac Lee looked quite comfortable as he threw for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, which was good considering that Arkansas State's defense seemed to have an answer for Roy Helu, Jr. Helu had sixty yards rushing and another forty-four receiving. While Helu's production was diminished, Watson stuck with his gameplan, mixing equal parts of running and passing plays well into the second half when it became clear that Nebraska's fortunes were to be gained through the air. What was more impressive than Lee's stats was his ball distribution. Fourteen Huskers caught passes (eleven from Lee), and the touchdowns were scored by Mike McNeill (twice), Niles Paul and Tyler Legate. Niles Paul could have had a third score (his other TD came on a reverse), but Lee's beautiful 70-yard strike to Paul was called back after a holding penalty.
Which brings me to a second point. While the Huskers had only four penalties, the aforementioned holding call and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a kickoff were big ones and are the type of mistakes that the Huskers can ill afford to make against the Hokies or any of their upper-echelon Big XII foes.
Another thing that should give Husker fans pause was the play of the defense. This week, Carl Pelini's squad managed to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and tally four sacks. They also held the Red Wolves to ninety-eight net passing yards. However, they allowed 174 yards on the ground and gave up sizable chunks of yardage on first and second downs. Once again, this will not do when Nebraska faces more talented offenses. They cannot continually give their opponents the advantage of second-and-short or third-and short. And while Nebraska was able to exploit personnel mismatches, most notably their taller receivers against ASU's 5'11" DB, Cordarious Mingo, Pelini remarked after the game that the Huskers have had too many missed tackles and blown assignments in their first two contests.
So, in a week in which there were perhaps more questions than answers, will Nebraska have time to sharpen its game before their big date in Blacksburg? And, just what is this team capable of accomplishing?
Husker Nation will have to wait for the answers.