Before each Minnesota football game, GopherIllustrated will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Nebraska publisher Josh Harvey of the BigRedReport.com (Lincoln, Nebraska) to preview the Gophers' Week 11 away game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
1) Nebraska started off the season hot rattling off seven straight wins including ones over Oregon and Northwestern, but have faltered their last two games against Wisconsin and Ohio State. What's the sense around this team right now heading into the Minnesota game this weekend?
JH: Losing two in a row after the hot start is tough, but the way they lost to Ohio State creates even more of a challenge when talking about a bounce back. I do think this team realizes though they have to flush it, because there is still a chance to win the West if they win out. They don’t control their destiny in their own hands anymore, but even a 10-2 season would be respectable considering how their record last season. I think I would be more concerned about them coming back from the Ohio State game if they were playing a Rutgers or Purdue. The fact they are playing a team coming off four straight wins makes it easy to move on to the next one.
2) Nebraska star quarterback Tommy Armstrong was knocked out the game with a very scary situation that required him to be carted off the field. Any word on Armstrong's status for this weekend? And if Armstrong isn't able to go, how much does this Cornhusker offense change with Ryker Fyfe at the helm?
JH: There is not an update at this time and I don’t really expect one until sometime later in the week – more than likely on Thursday. If he can’t practice on Thursday, I don’t expect him to play. If Armstrong is out, the offense will likely look very different with Fyfe in. First and foremost, he doesn’t have the running ability of Armstrong. Second, the passing game will feature a lot of quick hits I would imagine. The offensive line has not been very good the last couple of weeks with injuries and Fyfe will have the mobility to escape as well as Armstrong.
3) With Armstrong's status in doubt for Saturday, are you expecting the Huskers to lean more on Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo, and what and their games like? Who are some other names to note on this Huskers offense?
JH: I think even if Armstrong is out there, Minnesota is going to see a large dose of Newby and Ozigbo. The Huskers haven’t necessarily got away from the run the last couple of weeks, but hasn’t been effective on the ground. I think there is an emphasis this week in practice to return to form when it comes to rushing the football, similar to the way they were earlier in the season. Newby has been the primary back of late with Ozigbo banged up. Another guy I think Minnesota fans should watch out for, especially if Armstrong can’t go, is tight end Cethan Carter. He could become a safety net for Fyfe.
4) On defense, Nebraska defenders Nathan Gerry and Kieron Williams are playing well thus far, how would you asses their play, and who are some other names to lookout on defense?
JH: Last year the secondary really took a while to find the right combination, but once they did they were much improved over the second half of the season. Throw out the Ohio State game and it has continued with Gerry, Williams, Chris Jones, Joshua Kalu and Aaron Williams. In the offseason Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker decided the secondary needed some extra attention. Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart was assigned to just the corners, while Banker took charge of the safeties. I really think the secondary as a whole benefited from the extra attention. In addition, watch out for linebacker Josh Banderas who had a big game against Minnesota last year. Banderas has been Nebraska’s best run stopper up to this point at the linebacker spot.
5) What are the keys for Nebraska if they're going to get back on track against the Gophers at home this weekend, and what's your score prediction for the Minnesota vs. Nebraska, and why?
JH: I hate to throw out a score prediction without knowing the status of Tommy Armstrong. I will say this, if he’s completely good to go, I think Nebraska wins. If he isn’t, then I probably give the edge to Minnesota. Ultimately Nebraska has to do a better on first down running the football. Too often the last few weeks 2nd and 9 has hurt them. On defense, they need to have a similar plan as last year. Make Mitch Leidner beat them. Nebraska did a really solid job in 2015 stopping the run. Leidner had quite a few completions, but ultimately he couldn’t do enough through the air to beat Nebraska.