Mike Riley deserves a healthy congratulations for his first triumph at Nebraska, a relatively weak opponent notwithstanding.
The head coach earned it. His Nebraska football team earned it. The Huskers apparently practiced well last week and cleaned up their act in a few key areas Saturday night after a kick-in-the-gut opening loss.
Now they have to channel their inner Joe Frazier.
Time for a brawl.
Or put it this way: It's time for something exponentially tougher than what South Alabama had to offer. Nebraska prevailed 48-9 and now eyes next week's game at Miami, which as you might recall, engaged NU in what amounted to a fistfight last September in Lincoln.
The Huskers won that game by 10 points. The rematch looks like a toss-up, with the Hurricanes getting an edge because they'll be at home.
Before Saturday night, I would've favored Miami (2-0) by a reasonably wide margin, even though the Hurricanes haven't exactly set the world on fire in wins against Bethune-Cookman and Florida Atlantic. Even after Saturday night, Nebraska still has issues to resolve, most notably a persistently leaky pass defense.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya will offer a much stiffer test than South Alabama's Cody Clements. Same goes for the Hurricanes' skill-position players. Nebraska needs to develop a more consistent pass rush. The secondary has been soft in two games.
And let's face it, Miami no doubt will remember the two on-field fights in Lincoln. Maybe you've heard, the programs haven't always been friendly. You might remember the Hurricane lineman exiting the field last season with his middle finger extended toward the crowd. You might also remember Nebraska coaches spending part of the night pulling players from the field lest they receive suspensions.
Yes, Riley's crew could encounter a Miami team intent on revenge, and, yes, that can be a factor in sports.
This time Nebraska won't have Ameer Abdullah to lead the charge. But lo and behold, the Huskers might just have a reasonable facsimile. Abdullah used to tell anyone who would listen to watch for the rise of Terrell Newby. It would happen, he said.
Well, it happened. He rose. But can he keep it up?
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior from Los Angeles evoked memories of Abdullah on this night. He rushed 28 times for 198 yards and caught two passes for 38. He scored three touchdowns. He made the right moves, including crediting his linemen.
"We definitely played a lot better than we did last week," said left guard Dylan Utter. "We sustained our blocks better, that's for sure. Got better leverage. Used our hands better. Just were better overall."
By the way, let's not crown Newby as the next Mike Rozier. This, after all, was South Alabama (1-1). Still, Newby no doubt picked up confidence and gave Nebraska a go-to guy at the position, at least for now. He ran with purpose and abandon when necessary. He gave NU the rhythm it desired at the position.
"I thought that was real good for everybody," Riley said.
Meanwhile, Nebraska junior Tommy Armstrong just keeps humming along. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns, with no turnovers. He apparently has adapted well to Riley and Danny Langsdorf's offense. I have nothing but admiration for the kid. He's embraced the challenge. And his positive attitude and energy is paying dividends.
Armstrong ran the ball only twice. But he doesn't need to run much if Nebraska has a running back or backs in rhythm and he continues to execute the passing game. Through two games, he's completing 63.3 percent of his throws, 10 percentage points above his career average.
"If you can stay in that (63 percent) range, you'll be in good shape in your passing game," Riley said.
The news wasn't all good for Nebraska. The injuries to starting linebackers Josh Banderas (groin) and Dedrick Young (toe) are troublesome, no matter how well Michael Rose-Ivey (10 tackles) played in his return from a one-game suspension. Rose-Ivey enjoyed an excellent preseason camp and carried the momentum into Saturday night. Banderas and Young watched in street clothes. NU coaches are hopeful they'll be ready for Miami.
The Hurricanes, who returned only 10 starters from last season's team, looked ordinary most of Friday night against FAU. But their speed at the skill positions will test a Husker secondary that also has looked ordinary at times. Then again, the pass rush also has been lacking.
If Clements can throw for 271 yards, Kaaya can, well. … How about letting Riley and his staff enjoy their first win at Nebraska?
"I'm very excited about that," Riley said. "It's just an amazing scene in that stadium."
It's difficult telling exactly what awaits Riley and his team in Miami Gardens, Florida. But it won't be as friendly.