This was probably not the same game Sam Keller dreamed about the night before, though Husker fans certainly weren’t minding the final score.
Only a nightmare would involve the senior quarterback having a pass returned 80 yards for a touchdown in his Husker debut.
Keller chased Nevada’s Jonathon Amaya for a few yards on the play before accepting that God gave him a blessed arm but not fast feet.
The return came in the second quarter, gave Nevada the lead, and made it so quiet in Memorial Stadium you could only hear the soda vendors.
Except, wait, there was Keller’s voice. Junior running back Marlon Lucky heard it.
“Next play,” Keller said. “Next play we’re going to get ’em.”
Oh, Nebraska got ’em. It was a pretty fair licking, too.
Lucky and freshman running back Quentin Castille quickly made the lead and the noise return and the Huskers never bothered to look back during a 52-10 season-opening win.
Forget passing. Nebraska just ran and ran and ran …
At one point, “I think we ran the same play about six times in a row, seven times in a row,” Husker left tackle Carl Nicks said. “(Keller’s) like, ‘All right, guys, we got ‘98’ again.’”
What’s 98? “Stretch play to the right,” Nicks said. “They couldn’t stop us. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.”
By game’s end, Nebraska had taken an astounding 96 snaps, accumulating 625 yards. The Huskers ran the ball 70 times for 413 yards. NU even ran the option once.
Lucky was the star, posting 233 yards rushing on 30 carries, 33 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Lucky’s 266 all-purpose yards tied him for fifth in the Husker record book and was the most since Calvin Jones ran crazy against Kansas in 1991.
Then there was Castille, the 245-pound bruiser who showed he could dance outside and put the shoulder to linebackers, totaling 18 carries, 78 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’re very powerful up front, very physical,” Keller said. “We can go either way. We know we can run. We got the horses to throw, too. But today the tempo was set by the offensive line and the running backs running the ball. To have that dimension is just fantastic for a quarterback.”
And what about that quarterback? How’d he grade out Saturday?
Keller said he’d give himself a B minus.
The ballyhooed transfer from Arizona State was not the picture of consistency Husker fans might have hoped.
He looked average early and better late, and in the end, left the field with a so-so stat line: 14-for-25 for 193 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a couple passes dropped by receivers. He gave way to backup Joe Ganz with 11:56 left in the game and Nebraska leading 45-10.
Husker coach Bill Callahan said he could tell Keller was excited, but thought he managed the game well.
“I wasn’t pressing at all,” Keller said. “I can be honest with you and say that I had butterflies, but I think after a year and 10 months off of not playing in a game, that’s expected, especially in this situation, this atmosphere. It was so electric, so special.”
His first series as a Husker was a three-and-out with an incompletion.
Things got better quickly, as the Huskers drove 94 yards in 12 plays, aided by two pass-interference penalties on Nevada.
The drive ended with Keller finding an open Lucky on a 16-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score with 4:16 left in the first quarter. Keller’s reward was a celebratory hug from Nicks.
There was no hugging involved with 10:53 left in the second period, when a Keller pass was tipped by Jerome Johnson, intercepted by Amaya and returned for a score.
That made it 10-7 Nevada and Callahan decided that was enough throwing the ball for a while.
After the play, the Huskers ran the ball 14 times in a row and found great success.
A nine-play, 39-yard drive put Nebraska back ahead, as Lucky scored from a yard out. The Huskers scored again on their next possession. This time it was Castille, scoring from the 1 on a fourth-down play to make it 21-10 at the half.
Lucky hogged the limelight in the second half.
He glided in for a score from 17 yards out, then squeezed into the end zone yet again less than three minutes later to put Nebraska up 35-10 with 8:59 left in the third quarter.
That put an end to any drama the day might bring. A field goal by Adi Kunalic and touchdowns by Castille and Major Culbert accounted for the final tally.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Callahan said. “That first quarter was a little nip-and-tuck there and I wanted to make sure that we answered that (interception) when they scored. I thought our guys came back with a good focus.”
The coach knows it gets harder now, a trip to Wake Forest.
Fine with Keller. He’s expecting to play better than a B minus.
“I made some good throws, managed the game well, and at the same time I didn’t play my ‘A’ game, so that’s the beautiful thing, too,” he said. “You play your ‘A’ game and bring a 400-yard-a-game (rushing) offense like we did today, I mean, that poses a lot of problems for the defense.”
Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7439 or email@example.com.