Highlights: Chatt. - (10) Nebraska
Nebraska's new no-huddle offense at times resembled last year's outfit that led to offseason changes.
Some big plays on the ground from quarterback Taylor Martinez, but a lot of inconsistency otherwise.
The Huskers, as expected, rolled past FCS foe Tennessee-Chattanooga 40-7 on Saturday in Lincoln. But to contend for a Big Ten championship in their first year in the conference, the Huskers know they'll have to improve efficiency and execution on offense.
Just like last season.
"I would have hoped for the offense to do a lot better than what it did today," said Martinez, the sophomore returning starter who scored on runs of 7, 43, 47 yards. "I don't think we came out very strong up front, and I think we have a lot to learn from. Hopefully the next game we do better."
Nebraska, starting two sophomores and a freshman on the offensive line, didn't move the ball consistently and rarely went between the tackles. The Huskers counted on the option for the first time since 2003, and it showed, with bad pitches and ill-timed decisions.
"We played undisciplined at times," Coach Bo Pelini said. "We made some inexcusable, in my opinion, mental errors. The communication needs to get better. It's about where you usually are after your first week."
Martinez ran for 135 times on 19 carries, which might be too many touches if the Huskers hope to keep their playmaker healthy - which didn't happen last year, when a severe ankle injury hampered Martinez over the second half of the season, and a once-explosive offense went into a shell.
That led to a change in offensive coaches, and new coordinator Tim Beck has implemented many elements of the Nebraska offense of yesteryear from legendary coach Tom Osborne.
Now it's a matter of executing those plays.
"Too many busts, a couple communication errors out there on the field -- just a lot of things we need to get better at," Pelini said. "I just believe offensively, you have to be very efficient. You can't have many no-yardage plays, lost yardage plays, things that really had nothing to do with what the defense was doing but were self-imposed by us. You've got to fix that, because that's how you lose drives."
And games, as Nebraska learned last season.
-- Nebraska extended its season-opening win streak to 26 straight years, the longest streak in the nation. During the streak, Nebraska has won every game by at least 10 points. Nebraska has scored at least 40 points in 19 of the 26 games, including all four openers under Bo Pelini.
-- Tyler Moore became the first true freshman to start a season opener on the offensive line in Nebraska history. He's only the fourth true freshman offensive lineman to start a game at any point in the season, and only the 10th true freshman offensive lineman to play for Nebraska. Moore started at right tackle.
-- Other true freshmen who played Saturday included I-backs Ameer Abdullah, Aaron Green and Braylon Heard, receiver Jamal Turner and place-kicker Mauro Bondi, who shared kickoff duties. Turner, who, like Tyler Moore, was on campus for spring practices.
-- The fullback trap is back. Bo Pelini promised a return to "old school Nebraska football," complete with more action for the fullback. Sure enough, on the first play of the game, Tyler Legate took a handoff for a short gain. That's the first time Nebraska has run the fullback trap since 2004.
KEEP AN EYE ON: S Daimion Stafford -- The junior college transfer delivered two of the game's biggest hits while playing as a backup safety, one time jarring the ball loose from a Chattanooga receiver. Coaches are very impressed with Stafford's physicality and open-field tackling. He finished with six tackles, the third-most on the team.
LOOKING GOOD: Say this about Tim Beck's no-huddle offense: There were no play clock issues, with Nebraska often snapping the ball with 15 seconds or more on the clock. Penalties, a bugaboo last season, were not a problem Saturday; only three, with one false start. Overall, communication and management of the offense seemed sound. Defensively, Nebraska's deep, talented defensive line dominated as expected, as the Blackshirts as a unit had 11 tackles for loss and held Chattanooga to a 1.9 yard-per-carry average. Taylor Martinez showed he's again healthy and able to run past defenders.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The offense. The overall inconsistency and an inability to sustain long drives against an FCS foe are causes for concern. While the return of the option game to Lincoln after a seven-year hiatus brought fond memories for the fan base, the execution of it leaves much to be desired. Taylor Martinez wasn't always in sync with his backs, and in the passing game, Martinez still showed happy feet in the pocket and some impatience. Nebraska receivers dropped four passes. Ameer Abdullah might have great potential on punt returns, but three times he made contact with a teammate after receiving the punt, one time leading to a fumble.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was sloppy football and we have a ways to go. I think it gives us a good benchmark of where we are, and now we have to work to get better. I told the guys in the locker room, now is the time to roll up your sleeves and go to work." - Nebraska coach Bo Pelini
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- QB Taylor Martinez scored three rushing touchdowns, his first since last year's game at Kansas State in the fifth game of the season. He pushed his career rushing total to 1,100 yards to become the ninth quarterback in program history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards.
-- RB Rex Burkhead had a career-long 52-yard run in the first quarter, taking an option pitch from Taylor Martinez and darting down the sideline. That bettered his previous long run of 34 yards against Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl. Burkhead rushed 11 times for 75 yards.
-- K Brett Maher proved he's more than an adequate replacement for Alex Henery, who graduated as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. A walk-on, Maher made field goals of 50, 48, 34 and 21 yards, with no misses, and averaged 52 yards on four punts.
-- LB Trevor Roach made his first career appearance rather unexpectedly, having to fill in for injured Will Compton on the second defensive series. Roach is a redshirted freshman walk-on, and he responded with seven tackles, only two fewer than team-leading David Lavonte. Roach had two tackles for loss.
-- DE Cameron Meredith had two sacks for 22 yards lost, intercepted a pass tipped by defensive tackle Jared Crick and returned a blocked field goal 7 yards.