The new facilities passed the eye test with flying colors.
The new Nebraska football team did not.
The Cornhuskers, 28-point favorites over a Wyoming team that went 4-8 in 2012, melted in the fourth-quarter heat and barely held on for a season-opening 37-34 victory that appeared to be safely locked up with seven minutes remaining.
Do these themes seem familiar? Nebraska had 84 penalty yards, no punt return yards, three fumbles and failed to sack the opposing team's quarterback.
If the newer, taller, badder, louder East Stadium was supposed to intimidate the opposition, it did not. A record crowd of 91,185 made a lot of noise, but Wyoming looked unintimidated at all times and frankly, seemed unimpressed on occasion.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The Cornhuskers came out and performed exactly like their detractors around the nation said they would, giving up 602 total yards and getting gouged by big plays. Yes, we expected that the defense would have its share of growing pains, but we expected to see increased speed on the field. Instead, we saw junior quarterback Brett Smith – who is a smart kid, tough competitor and fine athlete, but will never be confused with Braxton Miller or Brett Hundley – making Husker defenders look silly by outrunning, outmaneuvering, out-thinking and out-adjusting them. It was the same old story; the Husker defense seemed a step slow all night.
Smith beat Husker linebackers to the edge with ease and neutralized Husker blitzes with his ability to move in the pocket and keep plays alive. The Huskers surrendered 219 rushing yards and nine runs of 10 yards or more to a Cowboy squad that finished in the bottom half of the major-college rushing stats in 2012. Smith was the more impressive of the two quarterbacks Saturday night, completing 29 of 43 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns. He made only two bad decisions all night – when he tried to go for the jugular too quickly in the second quarter, throwing an interception to Stanley Jean-Baptiste at the goal line, and on the game's final play, when he held the ball too long before throwing it away after time expired.
Taylor Martinez threw three touchdown passes and went 17-for-22, but his turnover problems returned in the fourth quarter, when he threw an interception and fumbled on a fourth-down sneak in the final seven minutes.
This young Husker defense will have better days, and there's no reason to give up on them by any means. The Blackshirts held Wyoming to only one third-down conversion in eight tries. The freshmen deserve a pass – it was their first game, after all. The fact that the the juniors and seniors had every bit as much trouble as the first-time starters is the most concerning thing of all. We can hope that Bo Pelini was right – that the Blackshirts looked worse than they really are. That front seven will do a lot of learning.
The Husker offensive line looked pretty much the same as last year's version, only with slightly improved pass blocking. The o-line got off to a familiar slow, penalty-punctuated start, then caught fire and steamrolled Wyoming during the third quarter, seemingly getting the Cowboys in a stranglehold – only to inexplicably let up in the fourth quarter. The fast-paced Husker offense seemed to wear down itself, not the opposition, because Wyoming outgained Nebraska 204-126 in the fourth quarter. At the end, the Cowboys looked like the better-conditioned team despite Nebraska's depth advantage.
With Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross both rushing for 100 yards, the Husker offense had its good moments, but early on, it seemed confused to the extent that Martinez found himself ad-libbing a lot during the first half. The Huskers never really got a good rhythm going on offense; Wyoming was crisper and better prepared. Martinez and the offense could have taken control of the game if they had finished a couple more drives.
On the bright side, Nebraska got excellent special teams play from Kenny Bell, and covered kickoffs with excellence. With the exception of Pat Smith's missed extra point and the ongoing lack of productivity on punt returns, the kicking game was solid. Grand Island's Sam Foltz is going to be an effective weapon as a punter.
The more you look at it, the more evident is becomes. The stadium addition was completed with excellence, and on time. But a ton of work remains for the Husker football team.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org