Points came easy for Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
So, too, did playing time opportunities for kids that don't typically get them.
Next week will be a whole different story, but that’s essentially the point in all of this.
A 45-9 win over FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman, scheduled last month after NU’s season-opener against Akron was canceled, served its purpose about as well as it could have for the Huskers.
“We wanted to win the game first and foremost. We wanted to play well, second. Ideally, we wanted to be in a game where we could get a lot of young guys experience,” coach Scott Frost surmised after the game. “There were some details that were good and bad throughout the game, but I thought we accomplished all three of those things.”
Unlike Sept. 1, which was supposed to be the opening verse of the Frost tenure and instead turned into a lightning-filled waiting game before ending in nothing but disappointment and makeup negotiations that went nowhere, this game was played in ideal fall weather and both teams got what they came for: a day of work and, for the visitors, an $800,000 thank-you.
“I'm appreciative of them for coming,” Frost said. “I think it was great for both teams, it was the type of game we needed. I'm sure the amount of money we're paying for them to come up is something they needed. I think both teams got out of the game really healthy, which is what both coaches wanted, and I think it was a win-win for everybody.”
For the Husker offense, the first half was all about the usual suspects. Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan hauled in eight passes for 75 yards, while sophomore JD Spielman added five catches for 72 in addition to returning a first-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown.
Senior running back Devine Ozigbo added 110 yards and a touchdown in 11 first-half carries while freshman Maurice Washington added 48 and another score. The No. 1 offense put 364 of its 468 yards of offense on the board in 41 first-half snaps, scoring on its first three drives before Adrian Martinez’s lone big mistake, an interception on a pass forced toward Spielman on third-and-22.
The outcome was never in doubt, though. Nebraska scored 14 points in the first 4 minutes, 13 seconds and 28 in the opening 12:05.
“Regardless of the game, a good quick start — a score — is really helpful on both sides of the ball,” Martinez said.
For the Blackshirts, role players had a hand in the outcome from the beginning.
Backup defensive tackle Peyton Newell logged his first career interception off of a pass tipped by Ben Stille to thwart one Bethune-Cookman drive. Later in the second quarter, sophomore JoJo Domann forced a fumble and fellow sophomore Deontai Williams recovered it.
Williams, the junior college transfer who’s played more and more as the season’s progressed, made a good break on a post pattern in the end zone in the third quarter and came away with his second interception of the season.
The Huskers forced three turnovers on the day and finished plus-one, their first game of the year winning the turnover battle.
"It was really encouraging, because on one, the play before, I had a mistake and then Peyton Newell made up for that," said junior linebacker Mohamed Barry (game-best 11 tackles, three for loss, and a sack). "That’s what great defenses are made of, when one player might make a mistake and another player makes up for it."
In the second half the reserves took over and added some highlights.
Wahoo native and sophomore transfer quarterback Noah Vedral played the entire second half and scored his first touchdown as a Husker on a 20-yard fourth-quarter scamper in what was otherwise a knock-the-rust-off outing.
Matt Jarzynka, a senior walk-on from Loup City, recorded a tackle for loss later in the frame and celebrated like a guy who’s been waiting his entire career to do just that while his senior teammate Mick Stoltenberg fought back tears on the sideline.
Stoltenberg, playing for the first time in a month, said Jarzynka, who didn’t participate in summer workouts because of an internship but wanted to be a walk-on this fall, “epitomizes what Nebraska is about.”
That sentiment permeated wide and far as the game progressed.
In all, at least 73 players by the Journal Star’s count saw game action. Many made their debuts — walk-on linebacker Chris Cassidy, transfer defensive lineman Vaha Vainuku, former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson, freshmen like running back Miles Jones and tight end Katerian Legrone among them — in front of a crowd that thinned some but largely stayed around to watch the reserves bring it home.
And why not? This was something of a modified bye week for Nebraska in the first place. The players and coaches all stressed the importance of approaching the Wildcats with respect and diligence and ensuring that they used the week to continue their upward trend, but this was also about getting some rest and preparing for a stretch run in which NU thinks it can do some damage.
Frost said he and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander have not been too heavily involved in scouting Ohio State just yet, but most of the coaching staff started working on the Buckeyes even as they fine-tuned their plan for B-CU.
“The only people, in my experience, who shouldn't look too far ahead are the play callers on both sides,” Frost said. “You don't want to get your wires crossed thinking about one team while calling the play for a different team. That doesn't always happen, but you have to be careful.
“Any game we go into, we're going to go with 100 percent of our focus to make sure we can do the best we can in the game, but I think quite a few coaches have gotten a look at them and we'll get a good game plan ready tomorrow."
Player after player said this group is far more ready for that kind of challenge than it was five weeks ago when it prepared to go to Michigan, where a 56-10 thumping awaited.
“Way more prepared,” Barry said. “I think we didn’t know even what kind of team we were. I think we had a lot of doubt, probably, in each other. Conflicts within. A lot of that is gone and we have a lot of confidence in each other and the players in the locker room.”
The Huskers will still be sizable underdogs. OSU has won three straight in the series and has romped to the tune of 118-17 combined the past two years.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” Stoltenberg said. “We’ve got a lot of huge opportunities coming up and this one’s the next one up. It’s a great team, it’s a great place to play, great atmosphere, so we’re going to be champing at the bit.
“This has to be a week where everyone shows up on Monday and be ready to go.”