LINCOLN — Nebraska’s retooled offense isn’t operating like a unit that’s laced with inexperience.
For the second straight week, the Huskers looked as efficient as ever. And this time, their poised first-year quarterback proved that, when challenged, he can lead the way just fine.
Zac Lee completed 27 of 35 passes for 340 yards, guiding No. 22 Nebraska to a 38-9 win over Arkansas State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
It certainly wasn't a perfect day for Lee. But the confident, smooth-operating junior audibled his way around blitzes and effectively recognized mismatches against a stingy defensive unit — one that did everything it could to put the game in Lee’s hands.
“We had guys get open and it’s easy to throw to open guys when you’re protected, just hanging out in the pocket really,” said Lee, who completed passes to 11 receivers. “We happened to be throwing the ball well, and we went with it.”
Last week, led by I-back Roy Helu’s 152-yard game, Nebraska took control of its 49-3 win over Florida Atlantic by pounding the Owls on the ground.
Saturday, against the Red Wolves, it turned out to be Lee’s chance. And he took advantage.
After his first pass to Mike McNeill fell incomplete, Lee connected on his next eight. He led the Huskers on three consecutive scoring drives to begin the game — and nearly had a fourth, but a holding penalty nullified Lee’s 70-yard bomb to Niles Paul.
But by then, Lee and the offense had already accomplished their weeklong goal. They wanted to make a statement from the first snap on, squashing any upset-minded thoughts that might have been hovering around the Red Wolves’ sideline.
“If you let them set the tone, a team like that, who’s got a lot of athletes, can sneak up on you,” senior center Jacob Hickman said. “We really had to try to get them out of the game early and keep them out. Coaches have been stressing that all week.”
The players executed almost flawlessly. It was 21-0 moments into the second quarter Saturday, a start that even Nebraska’s meticulous head coach could be pleased with.
“We attacked,” Bo Pelini said. “I thought we played really well offensively. To start the game, I loved the energy we came out with.”
The Huskers will certainly see more talented defensive teams — particularly next week when they travel to No. 14 Virginia Tech. But they did cruise past two outmanned opponents from the Sun Belt with relative ease and maybe exceeded expectations along the way.
Heading into the season, this was an offense that had the right to be somewhat shaky at times. It lost veteran wideouts Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, two NFL-caliber linemen — Matt Slauson and Lydon Murtha — and crafty and gutsy quarterback Joe Ganz.
But offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and the rest of the coaches have a plan, and they’re communicating their objectives well, according to Hickman. He said the players, even the ones in new roles, know what they’re supposed to be doing.
“A staff-to-player connection — we have another year under the staff so we have that good connection now,” Hickman said. “And I think we’re starting to get to the point where we understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”
At the very least, they’re taking pressure off a defense that’s still not meeting Pelini’s lofty expectations. The Husker defenders weren’t physical enough last week. They were too sloppy Saturday, Pelini said.
But through the season’s first two weeks, Nebraska’s offense had no problem leading the way.
The Huskers totaled 490 yards against Florida Atlantic. They had 494 Saturday.
Lee’s effectiveness can be credited for much of the early success, even though he won’t admit it. In Lee’s eyes, his dependable teammates make his job easy.
“We all understand what our offense is trying to do,” Lee said. “Guys have an idea of what plays are going to be called, so that helps because when we get in a rhythm, we keep going.
|Yards per carry||3.8||4.9|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against Arkansas State.
|Florida Atlantic||Sept. 5|
|Arkansas State||Sept. 12|
|Virginia Tech||Sept. 19|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 17|
|Iowa State||Oct. 24|
|Kansas State||Nov. 21|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 12. See them all »
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