The run took less than 10 seconds, but that was all he needed to steal the show.
Roy Helu ran left and saw nothing but trouble. Actually, it wasn’t trouble so much as an opportunity to do something special.
He just switched directions, somehow avoiding the grasp of an oncoming Owl in the process. “And Zac Lee was in the way so I ran past him,” Helu said.
He ran past Lee and then ran past everyone else. Another Owl tried to tackle him, but Helu said goodbye. It was a 44-yard touchdown on a play that should have been a 2-yard loss.
“That doesn’t surprise me from Roy,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said after Nebraska’s 49-3 stomping of Florida Atlantic at Memorial Stadium. “He’s as good of a back as there is out there.”
You can talk about Lee and Cody Green today. Talk about those fresh-faced linebackers and the man named Suh. But you better eventually aim that conversation at Helu.
The junior I-back showed Saturday night he could be the straw that stirs the drink for this Husker offense.
Helu wore a candy lei around his neck in the postgame news conference, a tradition in his family. And from the sounds of things, Helu would probably be willing to share some of that with his offensive line.
“It was really a product in the second half of how well our line was doing,” Helu said of his success, which amounted to 152 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. “A big thing also to our success in the third quarter was tempo.”
Yes, the Huskers didn’t feel they always had the best tempo. “We didn’t get in and out of the huddle like we like to,” Pelini said.
But the tempo started to improve in the third quarter. And Helu responded. “It got me into a rhythm,” he said.
Pelini had talked in the offseason about how Helu could be a special player. And while the running back will have to continue to prove it, it was an impressive start and heart-warming to a fan base that saw Quentin Castille dismissed from the team just two weeks ago.
Of course, Husker fans were also probably encouraged by what they saw from the junior quarterback Lee. Making the first start of his NU career, Lee was 15-of-22 for 213 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It might have been a better stat line had the Huskers not dropped three passes in the first half.
Pelini said that other than the one interception, Lee played outstanding.
“You can see how confident he is and he carries himself the right way,” the coach said.
The first series for Lee was less than desirable. It featured a wayward snap out of the shotgun, a false-start penalty and ultimately a three-and-out.
But the Huskers settled down on their second series, and Lee looked plenty relaxed by the time he found Menelik Holt for a 28-yard touchdown pass on third-and-5. Holt caught the ball at the 20-yard line, made a nifty move on a defender, then got a crushing block from teammate Curenski Gilleylen on his way to score.
That would not be the last we would see of Gilleylen, who had four catches to double his career reception total. Plagued by a case of the drops at times last season, the sophomore wide receiver burned the Owls’ defense for a 51-yard touchdown reception less than two minutes into the second quarter.
So wide-open was Gilleylen, the only question was if he’d trip over his own feet to keep from scoring. He didn’t. The red crush was on.
As lopsided as the score was, most of the statistics were much closer. Nebraska outyarded the Owls 490-358. Both teams had 22 first downs.
“I’d hate to see the stat on yards after contact,” FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. “Of the 400 they got, I imagine 300 were yards after contact.”
The Husker defense bent at times, but never broke, picking up three turnovers along the way.
Nebraska did not record a sack and allowed 133 yards rushing — too many for Ndamukong Suh’s liking.
He gave the Husker defense a grade of a B minus.
While certainly not perfect, Pelini called it “a good start” to the season.
“We got to play a lot of guys, but I also found out we have a lot of work to do,” Pelini said. “We were sloppy at times and not real crisp. … I also know, like I just told the team, you have to make a big jump between your first game and your second game. If we do that then we’ll continue working in the right direction. It’s a win. It’s 1-0 and that’s what we came here for.”
And on a day when Sooners bumbled and Buckeyes struggled, that sounds pretty good.
Reach Brian Christopherson at email@example.com or 473-7439.