Roy Helu Jr. ran for 152 yards and three touchdowns and Zac Lee passed for 213 yards and two scores in his first start as No. 24 Nebraska defeated Florida Atlantic 49-3 Saturday night in Lincoln.
Helu put to rest any concerns about hamstring problems that bothered him last season and in preseason practices. He also showed he's quite capable of being the Huskers' featured back in the wake of Quentin Castille's dismissal for breaking team rules.
"In the first quarter I was impatient with my reads," Helu said. "The feeling was good in the third quarter. The type of offense we're trying to become, you saw it in the third quarter."
Lee, who hadn't taken a meaningful snap since his last year of junior college in 2006, got sharper after a fumbled snap led to a three-and-out on Nebraska's first series.
He threw touchdown passes of 28 yards to Menelik Holt and 49 yards to Curenski Gilleylen and then led a 15-play, 82-yard drive that Helu finished with a 1-yard run.
"There was a little bit of anxiety, but that faded pretty quickly," Lee said. "Once you throw a couple passes, it's back to playing football."
The Huskers opened Bo Pelini's second season as head coach with the program's 24th straight win in an opener, the longest streak in the nation.
"You play that first game and it gives you a benchmark, an idea where you are," Pelini said. "I saw some good things out there. We got to play a lot of guys. But I also found out we have a lot of work to do. We were sloppy at times and not real crisp."
Helu, like Lee, got better as the game went on. His first five carries of the second half netted 95 yards and touchdowns of 7 and 44 yards. The junior went over 100 yards for the fourth time in six games.
"That's Roy, great player, great runner," Lee said. "The thing we saw tonight was how strong he is, breaking tackles, making moves. He's going to be that guy for us. We're going to rely on him and get him the ball."
Nebraska's defense made it a long night for FAU's Rusty Smith, the Sun Belt Conference's all-time leading passer and the preseason offensive player of the year. He couldn't establish any rhythm, threw a couple of interceptions and finished 15-of-27 for 164 yards.
Nebraska blew open the game in the third quarter after Smith committed three turnovers on three series. Matt O'Hanlon and Prince Amukamara had interceptions and Smith fumbled a snap. Two of the turnovers led to Nebraska touchdowns.
"I'm sure they went into halftime concerned about how they looked against us," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger.
"They put it into overdrive and I asked our guys to put it into overdrive, but we didn't have enough juice in the tank. It's a very bitter loss for us. It's the first one that I've had with this program that is tougher to handle than others because I expected more out of this football team that what I got at this juncture."
Lee completed 15-of-22 passes with one interception before giving way to freshman backup Cody Green early in the fourth. Green ripped off a 49-yard run before scoring Nebraska's last TD from a yard out.
The game also marked the much-awaited debut of freshman Rex Burkhead, who ran for 39 yards and an 8-yard touchdown.
Nose tackle Ndamukong Suh said the defense was in midseason form with one exception. The Huskers allowed 122 yards rushing. "Rate our defense? B-minus," Suh said. "There were a couple breakdowns and that let them get some momentum. When we're point on, we're getting three-and-outs. There were some lax places that we need to clean up."
Alfred Morris led the Owls with 85 yards. FAU's only points came with backup quarterback Jeff Van Camp in charge. He moved the Owls 71 yards in 11 plays in the second quarter with Ross Gornall kicking a 21-yard field goal. Van Camp re-entered in the fourth and finished.
The Owls fell to 1-16 against opponents from Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conferences, including 0-7 vs. the Big 12.