Maybe there is something to this “Red Storm” nickname that the Cornhuskers’ offensive players came up with. Florida Atlantic was in the path Saturday, and the Huskers rolled to a 55-7 victory.
Abdullah, the nation’s top returning rusher, ran for a career-high 232 yards and a touchdown before leaving in the middle of the third quarter. Tommy Armstrong Jr. passed for a career-high 271 yards and two TDs before sitting down late in the third.
The Cornhuskers rushed for 498 of their 784 total yards and won their 29th straight opener, the longest streak in the nation. Nebraska’s offensive total was the fifth highest in program history and most since the Huskers gained 787 against Utah State in 1991.
“I know what this offense has the potential to do, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves now,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Our captains said we didn’t come into this season to beat Florida Atlantic. So we won a game we should have won. I do like the fashion we won it.”
Abdullah had 178 yards by halftime while becoming the eighth Nebraska player to go over 3,000 yards rushing in a career. Terrell Newby added 107 yards rushing.
Florida Atlantic, with first-year coach Charlie Partridge, was paid $1 million to visit Lincoln and will get another $1 million for playing at No. 2 Alabama next week. The Owls of Conference USA went 75 yards on their first series to tie it at 7, but they gained just 51 more before Nebraska’s defense began freely substituting after the third quarter.
“There were times we looked like we’d have a powerful offense. At times it looked like we needed to get better at some things,” Partridge said.
About the only negative for Nebraska was the loss of star defensive end Randy Gregory, who went out with a left leg injury in the first quarter and was in street clothes for the second half. Pelini said he didn’t know the nature of the injury.
Abdullah’s best run came in the second quarter when he broke through the line and sidestepped cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc on his way to a 47-yard touchdown. It was among his nine runs of 10 yards or longer.
Abdullah left the stadium without speaking to the media. Armstrong said Abdullah ran the same way he had been in practice.
“He went out there to prove something,” Armstrong said.
Asked what Abdullah had to prove after running for almost 1,700 yards last season, Armstrong said, “That he’s the best back in the nation. I think (some analysts) have him the No. 2 or 3 back in the Big Ten. I think he’s taken that to heart and proven to everyone why he should be one of the contenders for the No. 1 spot.”
Jay Warren led the Owls with 77 yards rushing, and Jaquez Johnson and Greg Hankerson combined to go 11 of 30 for 95 yards.
Jordan Westerkamp had seven catches for 125 yards and Kenny Bell four for 116 for the Huskers. Westerkamp made the catch of the game when he put his hands behind his back to snag a tipped pass along the sideline. The 16-yard play on a third-and-6 kept alive a drive that put the Huskers up 38-7.
“I ran a corner route and saw the ball get tipped,” Westerkamp said. “I put my hands back and the ball landed perfectly. It was a crazy play.”
“I’ve coached a lot of football, and I’ve never seen that one,” Pelini said. “Even to have the wherewithal to throw your hands back there. I always say he catches anything that’s near him. He showed that right there.”
Armstrong, who completed 15 of 29 passes, finished with 333 yards of total offense and was relieved by Ryker Fyfe late in the third quarter.
The game originally was billed as the Pelini Bowl because it was to have matched Nebraska coach Bo Pelini against his brother, former FAU coach Carl Pelini. But Carl Pelini was forced out with four games left last season amid allegations of drug use, which Carl denied. Offensive coordinator Brian Wright led the Owls to four straight wins and a 6-6 finish as interim coach.