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Martin: What we learned, if anything, from Nebraska's season opener

Posted: 11:23 PM, Sep 02, 2017
Updated: 2017-09-03 00:23:24-04
Martin: What we learned, if anything, from Nebraska's season opener

Yikes, was that close. Coming into this game, there were many questions about this Nebraska team. Let's look through them and see which, if any, were answered by the end of the game.

Will Tanner Lee live up to the hype?

One thing is for sure, Tanner Lee is looks like he could be the best pocket passer Nebraska has seen in as long as I can remember. He makes the toughest of throws look easy, including his first-half bomb to Stanley Morgan Jr.

When he throws it deep, you gasp, but not like you did for the last two years. The feeling was more "oh my god that's a touchdown", than "oh no, not again".

Lee finished the game with 238 yards, completed 19 of his 32 passes with two touchdowns. The "Golden Boy" looked the part.

Playmaking like that can take the Huskers far, as long as the big uglies up front can keep him healthy. Which leads me to the next question...

Even if Lee is as good as everyone says he is, can the offensive line protect him?

The offensive line had its moments, but overall this question is still way up in the air. Lee was under diress a couple of times, and while Arkansas State's best attribute is their defensive line, Nebraska will face much, much better front-sevens this year. 

The Huskers' pipeline will need to be more consistent in both pass and run blocking if they want to compete in the Big Ten.

Can Nebraska replace Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly's production at wide receiver?

Lee kept everyone involved as seven different receivers caught passes, six of which had two or more.

Stanley Morgan Jr. led the way with five catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. Morgan showed that he and Tanner Lee could make for one of the more explosive quarterback-wide receiver duos in the Big Ten if everything goes according to plan.

True freshman Tyjon Lyndsey showed his speed and playmaking ability out of the screen game, although he finished with just three catches for 18 yards. 

Tight end Tyler Hoppes had quite the buzz surrounding him throughout fall camp, and although he let one touchdown pass go off his chest in the first half, he made up for it with another incredible grab in the second half to finish with three catches for 40 yards.

It might take seven guys to do it, but it looks like the Huskers are in good shape at wide receiver.

Will Diaco's defense stand tall? Will the Huskers be ready to execute a new defensive scheme with such young, inexperienced personell?

It sure didn't look like it, did it? Arkansas State hung 26 points on the Blackshirts in the first half. They nickled and dimed their way down the field and almost won the game because of it. 

The look of this new defense surprised me. Former defensive coordinator Mark Banker's defense was more of a "read and react, bend but dont break" defense, which allowed offenses to gain small chunks at a time but limited big plays.

I thought this would be a much more agressive style of defense, but it looked very similar to last year's in that aspect. Arkansas State chipped its way down field, five yards at a time on multiple occasions.

It seemed like the defense was playing on its heels for the entirety of the game, instead of having its ears pinned back and attacking. This strategy didn't work against Arkansas State, and it won't work in the Big Ten.

Yes, this defensive scheme is a work in progress, but this was supposed to be a change in philosophy led by the fiery Bob Diaco. That wasn't the case.

Arkansas State outgained Nebraska on their home turf, finishing with 497 yards of total offense. The run defense was stout, but the Blackshirts were gashed through the air as Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen completed 46 of his 68 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. 

That kind of production from what was supposed to be a "warm up" opponent is down-right awful.

One thing to remember is that outside of Lamar Jackson and Joshua Kalu, almost none of the Huskers defensive backs had any game experience.

Jackson started in just one game last season, and Kalu is playing a completely new position after switching from cornerback to safety. 

Don't hit the panic button on Diaco's defense just yet, but feel free to keep your hand hovering inches above it. 

Is Mike Riley going to line up four running backs on the field at one time or what?

While all signs pointed to a "running back by committee" in fall camp, but that couldn't have been further from the truth.

Tre Bryant came out early and showed why he deserved the full work load. At one point in the game, he was carrying about four Arkansas State defenders (and the Huskers stagnant second quarter offense) on his back down the field all at one time.

He looks better, faster, stronger. His downfield vision and ability to make cuts look like they're light years ahead of where they were just a season ago. 

Bryant finished the game with 31 (!!!!) carries for 192 yards and a touchdown. That kind of productivity at running back is something Nebraska will desperately need as it gets into the heart of its schedule.

Will D.P.E. FINALLY take one to the house like he did that one time? How will the special teams look after Bruce Read's departure?

Well, it wasn't De'Mornay Pierson-El, but J.D. Spielman took a kick return to the house in the first half and Husker nation rejoiced. Nebraska hasn't seen speed in the return game like that since Pierson-El's sophomore season.

I know you wanted to, but you can't blame Bruce Read for the Arkansas State punt return for a touchdown, or the onside kick. There's still plenty of work to do for the special teams.

While there's still plenty of kinks to work out on both sides of the ball, the potential is there and the ceiling is high. This should be an interesting season, but take a deep breath Husker Nation. Nebraska is undefeated.