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Big Ten preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Miami's Al-Quadin Muhammad (8) and Trent Harris (33) chase and sack Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) in the third quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sept. 19. Miami won, 36-33, in overtime. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Miami’s Al-Quadin Muhammad (8) and Trent Harris (33) chase and sack Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) in the third quarter at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Sept. 19. Miami won, 36-33, in overtime. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

2014 record: 9-4

Head coach: Mike Riley (first year, 2-2)

2015 record so far: 2-2

Record vs. OSU since 2005: 1-1

What’s happened so far in 2015: The Cornhuskers were one of those football teams that fell victim to BYU’s last-minute heroics to start the season. They bounced back the following week, as they defeated South Alabama 48-9. Redemption for the loss to BYU almost came two weeks later when Nebraska roared back in the fourth quarter to force overtime, before falling to Miami 36-33. However, this past week the Cornhuskers were almost upended themselves in a close 36-28 win over an average Southern Mississippi squad.

Key offensive player: Despite a coaching turnover, Nebraska had a lot to look forward to on the offensive side of the ball in 2015. With a pair of juniors in Tommy Armstrong Jr. under center and Terrell Newby in the backfield, coach Mike Riley inherited a potent offense. Right now, Armstrong’s dual-threat capability makes him the MVP for Nebraska entering Big Ten play. The junior quarterback currently leads the conference in passing yards (1,266) and passing touchdowns (11), and also has sported extreme athleticism that has allowed him to run outside and hurdle opposing defenders. Armstrong is on fire entering Big Ten play, and that’s scary for opposing secondaries.

Key defensive player: The most surprising aspect of Nebraska’s season so far is the play of tight-end-turned-defensive-end Freedom Akinmoladun. The redshirt freshman was initially called to the field to replace senior Jack Gangwish after he suffered an injury against BYU. Freedom’s impact was felt immediately. The elusive defensive end has already piled up four sacks and six tackles for losses this season, including the sack that ended Southern Mississippi’s chances of a comeback. Unfortunately, Akinmoladun is a lone bright spot on a defense plagued by injuries to key players, and he will not be able to continue to carry the load throughout Big Ten play.

Weaknesses: This one is pretty simple, given that Nebraska fields one of the worst secondaries in college football. The aforementioned unit has allowed 379.5 passing yards per game in 2015, ranking them dead last in the nation. First-year defensive coordinator Mark Banker has had to make adaptations because of the injuries, but the problem with the pass coverage stems from the lack of any pressure up front. Banker’s system calls for the safeties to play closer to the line of scrimmage, which is part of the reason why Nebraska is giving up so many deep pass plays. In order to make up for its lack of veteran depth, Nebraska needs to turn it up in the turnover department, as it is tied for last in the Big Ten with just three interceptions.

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