He began the game in a strong manner.

His ending had a nice touch, too.

Good luck finding much to criticize in between.

"We can only get better from here," Nebraska sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong said Saturday in breaking down the offense's performance in the season opener.

Better from here?

Oh, really?

Nobody in their right mind foresaw 22nd-ranked Nebraska hanging 784 yards on Florida Atlantic, which returned 12 starters from a 6-6 team.

After the Huskers' thoroughly dominating 55-7 triumph before a capacity crowd of 91,441 at Memorial Stadium, Armstrong brought up last season's Michigan State game.

You know, the one in which Nebraska surrendered five turnovers and lost 41-28 at home. A few weeks later, the Spartans captured the Big Ten championship.

"If we wouldn't have had five turnovers, that game would've been ours," Armstrong said.

Back to matters at hand: Yeah, 784 yards are wonderful. Just as impressive, Nebraska committed no turnovers and few mental errors. Maybe the start of something big. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. With due respect, this was FAU.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini hinted at his team's mindset. The captains, after the victory, told their teammates, "You know what? We didn't come into this season to beat Florida Atlantic."

Nebraska has its eyes on a slightly bigger prize — a conference championship. Remember those? The Huskers possess enough talent to get the job done. This is Pelini's most balanced team in terms of talent on both sides of the ball.

But when you're talking about a team winning a league title, the conversation winds through and around many important areas while finishing at one critical position:


Does Nebraska have a championship-level quarterback?

A tough-minded quarterback who can respond in the clutch, and/or when it seems everything is crashing down around him?

We need more evidence. But Armstrong's performance Saturday — as a runner, passer and field general — was tantalizing.

He rushed seven times for 62 yards (8.9 per carry) and seemed at least a half-step faster than last year. His size, 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, helps him get tough yards. He's a tough kid.

He showed a particularly nice feel for running the zone-read.

"Patient," Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said emphatically. "You have to be patient reading it."

Armstrong completed 15 of 29 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. He looked like Kenny Stabler on his deep completions.

As usual, Armstrong showed strong leadership. We saw that last season. We saw it again when Nebraska, on its first two possessions, was called for five penalties (it ended the game with six).

Tommy said he didn't feel the need to speak up in the huddle. The offense was clicking, opening with two touchdowns. No worries.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska defense, after looking a tad lost as Florida Atlantic marched to a touchdown on its first possession, played marvelously. The Owls went three-and-out on nine of their final 11 possessions.

Nebraska led 31-7 at halftime and kept the pedal down to open the third quarter. The Huskers' focus and hard edge left an impression. It was what you might see from a team on a mission.

Armstrong's final series was a microcosm of his day as a passer. He gunned a 63-yard strike to Kenny Bell and followed by putting perfect touch on an 8-yard touchdown pass to true freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El. That made it 45-7.

After the game, Armstrong wasn't making bold predictions about what the offense can become. The objective, he said, is getting 4- and 5-yard gains and moving the chains.

But he wasn't complaining about nine plays of at least 20 yards, helped by the fact FAU's defensive backs played press coverage.

"I felt like our receivers were good enough to win one-on-ones (matchups)," Armstrong said. "You just have to get the ball out there for them to catch it."

His deep passes will be important to Nebraska's offense as defenses try to play man-to-man on wide receivers in order to commit more defenders to slowing Ameer Abdullah (21 carries for 232 yards).

Abdullah ran as if Nebraska were playing for the national crown.

As for running the offense, Armstrong said he's no longer "swinging for the fences." He's taking what the defense gives him, he said. Yeah, it's coach-speak, boilerplate, whatever.

Doesn't matter. Armstrong could let his performance do the talking, if he so desired.

As he addressed reporters, he wore a gray T-shirt that read "Red Storm," the name Beck created for the offense. Armstrong had five stars on one sleeve, as in a five-star general.

"We're the main guys," he said of the quarterbacks.

No doubt, it all starts with the quarterbacks. And often, when you're talking about championships, it ends there.

Go ahead, let your mind wander.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​