Before each Minnesota football game, GopherDigest will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Nebraska beat writer Josh Harvey, publisher of Nebraska's Scout.com site (Lincoln, Nebraska) to preview the Gophers' Week 7 home game against the 2-4 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
1) Nebraska is 2-4 to start the season, which has to be a startling change from what Husker fans are used to. What have you learned about this team through six games?
JH: They never quit. In three of their four losses, Nebraska was down in the second half. They managed to be tied or ahead with less than a minute in each of those three games. I think Nebraska fans will continue to see the same thing out of this team despite not being in the running for the Big Ten West division title.
2) How has the offense looked under junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong this season and what are your thoughts on his play so far?
JH: At the beginning of the season, I would have said he’s been one of the most improved players this year. But, the last two weeks Armstrong has reverted back to some of his old habits throwing the football. With those old habits, a lot inconsistency has reared its ugly head. I wouldn’t say Nebraska fans aren’t sold on Tommy Armstrong as a quarterback or a leader – most realize he’s not the one calling the plays. But, most fans would like to see a stronger commitment to running the football. They feel offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf either abandons the run to quickly or gets pass happy. There is a feeling at times that this coaching staff views the running game as a compliment to the passing game. Nebraska fans are used to seeing their great teams run the ball down people’s throats.
3) The Huskers have lost their four games by a combined eleven points, so there's been a lot of close games that haven't gone Nebraska's way. What seems to be the Achilles heel for the Huskers?
JH: If a team has the ball with under a minute left, down a score, the Nebraska secondary isn’t prepared right now to make a stop. Nebraska at times has also failed to run the clock effectively on offense late in the game (Southern Miss and Illinois). In previous years, Nebraska’s top 20 rushing offenses would be able to pick up first downs late in the game. Now they seem to really struggle in known running situations.
4) What are the strengths of the Nebraska defense and who are a few names to keep an eye on for the game this Saturday?
JH: Nebraska’s rushing defense has been pretty solid so far this season, although the stats are probably a bit skewed because teams are realizing they can air it out against the Huskers. A name Minnesota fans definitely need to know on defense will be Maliek Collins. The defensive tackle has not only been a pass rush threat, but has been really solid so far plugging up the middle. He’s facing constant double-teams and will probably draw a few from the Gophers.
5) What are the keys for the Huskers if they're going to beat the Gophers on the road and what's your prediction for the Nebraska vs. Minnesota game and why?
JH: On offense, I really feel Nebraska needs to not only establish a strong running attack on first and second down, but stick with the run – even during periods when it’s not going as well. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has admitted at times he gets “chased” out of running the football when the rushing attack is inconsistent. The Huskers are just 16-of-48 on third down in their last three contests. Third-and-three will look a lot better than third-and-ten against the Gophers’ secondary.
On defense, the Nebraska secondary made strides last week finishing, but still gave up over 322 yards to a mediocre passer Joel Stave. Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner isn’t exactly a world-beater throwing the football, but will have some success throwing the football if the secondary doesn’t build on what they did last week.
Even though Nebraska has lost the last two games against Minnesota, I think the Huskers have more talent. It's a must win game for these guys. I'm going....Prediction: 27-21, Nebraska.