Kevin Wilson and his Indiana football team will be looking for a 2-1 start in the Big Ten and a 4-2 record overall when they host Nebraska tomorrow at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 EDT and the game will be televised on ABC. Peegs.com caught up with Josh Harvey from the Big Red Report to get the latest on a Cornhuskers team that is ranked 10th in the nation and comes in with a 5-0 record overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten.
1) Talk about the Nebraska offense and how they are playing this season. Talk about the play of Tommy Armstrong and how important he is to that unit. Besides Armstrong who are the top playmakers on that side of the ball?
I think one of the biggest differences on offense this year compared to last is how they are using Armstrong. There are more designed runs and when Tommy has the ability to get out of the pocket he becomes more comfortable in the passing game. In the early going last year it looked at times like he was hesitant. He definitely has a better grasp on the offense, knows where his check-downs are, and has a feel on how long he can stay in the pocket before trying to escape. He is really taking the notion of living for another down and running with it, instead of forcing the issue like he did at times last season.
After Armstrong I would have a hard time pointing to just one guy, because you can tell by looking at the stats they are pretty balanced. With wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and tight end Cethan Carter out, I would look at senior wide receiver Alonzo Moore as a guy who could have a big day. Back from an injury, Moore is averaging over 25.8 yards per catch this season. He’s bound to beat a defensive back deep at least once a game.
2) When the Nebraska offense has had trouble moving the ball and scoring what have been the issues? What is the best way to slow them down?
Overall the offense is in pretty good shape. There are definitely times when it goes away for a few drives, but that is usually when the running game is struggling to get yards. Tommy Armstrong, like every quarterback, is more effective when it is 3rd and 3 compared to 3rd and 9. The reason being his legs are a bigger weapon on the short third down than a long one. Against Illinois last time out, Nebraska only managed 14 yards rushing in the second quarter.
3) Who are the names to know on the defensive side of the ball? What players need to perform well for the Cornhuskers to be successful on defense?
Indiana seems to be their best when they are running the football with success, which means middle linebacker Josh Banderas will have to step up. The senior was primed for a big year, but has had a slow start so far, registering just 19 tackles. After Banderas, the secondary, especially Chris Jones at corner, is going to have to continue to lock down one side of the field. There are rumors the junior could be an early draft pick next April, as he certainly has been a nightmare for offensive coordinators so far - four pass breakups, two interceptions, 13 tackles and one sack. Senior safety Nate Gerry is also the glue when it comes to the Blackshirts. A third-year starter, Gerry has 29 tackles in five games with two interceptions. He’s really a guy who can come up to the line of scrimmage and help in the run game.
4) When teams have had success moving the ball on Nebraska what has been the formula? What is the best way to attack them?
While I believe they are in the top half of football in rushing defense, stopping the run has been an issue at times for this team, after ranking in the top 20 last year. To often we have seen poor tackling – either by guys taking bad routes to the ball or trying to arm tackle. During the bye week last week, there was an emphasis put on tackling in preparation for Indiana’s rushing attack. I know the Hoosiers’ rushing attack nationally haven’t put up a ton of yards, but I think playing Ohio State and Michigan State didn’t help the numbers. Nebraska is definitely worried about the Indiana running game.
5) Talk about the Nebraska special teams unit and how they have played so far this season? Who are the names to know there?
Kicker Drew Brown hasn’t heard his name called often this season, with only four field goal attempts in five games. His one miss was from 50+ against Illinois. Brown has a strong leg and head coach Mike Riley isn’t afraid to turn to him from long distances. He was 12-of-14 from 40+ last season and has only gotten better. On kickoffs, 50 percent of his strikes are touchbacks.
When it comes to the punting game, true freshman Caleb Lightbourn has filled in beautifully for Sam Foltz, who the Huskers lost in the offseason due to a tragic car accident that took the senior’s life. Foltz was regarded as one of the top punters in the country and was the reigning Big Ten Punter of the Year. Lightbourn wasn’t expecting to get any time this season, but was thrown into services at the beginning of August. Right now he’s only averaging 39.3 yards per punt, but has 5-of-17 inside the 20. Lightbourn is getting more and more confidence every week.