Nebraska is exactly halfway through their regular season. The Huskers offense is currently putting up 41.5 points per game, good for No. 12 in the country. The rushing attack, even better at No. 6 in the country. So why are so many Husker fans complaining about the offense?
Sophomore Tommy Armstrong isn’t probably keeping defensive coordinators up at night, but through six games has shown to be dangerous, despite spells of inconstancy.
The former Texas prep has thrown for 1,325 yards and ten touchdowns to five interceptions. What has surprised people more than anything has been his ability to rack up yards on the ground, rushing for 427 yards on just 61 carries – good for 7.0 yards per rush.
In his most recent back-to-back weeks, Armstrong hasn’t been able to eclipse the 50 percent mark on his throws, but when taking all six weeks into account, he’s been the Big Ten west’s best quarterback.
For the second straight season, injuries have piled up at the position and left Tommy Armstrong with less than his full arsenal of weapons he entered fall camp with. Senior Jamal Turner (out-year), senior Kenny Bell, sophomore Brandon Reilly, and junior Sam Burtch (out-year) have all missed time – all four were in the two-deep coming into the season. Hopefully multiple well-timed bye weeks will provide the Huskers a chance to get healthy.
Armstrong’s most reliable target has been sophomore Jordan Westerkamp, who’s caught 25 balls for 474 yards and three scores. He hasn’t caught a touchdown in three weeks and was in a bit of a funk before Michigan State, but bounced out of with 157 yards on nine catches. Westerkamp has a legitimate chance of becoming the Huskers’ first 1,000 receiver in program history if he was to continue on his current pace and Nebraska makes a Big Ten title game. His progression as a top target shouldn’t be a surprise after back-to-back 80+ catch seasons in high school that earned him USA Today first-team All-American honors.
Behind Westerkamp, Bell has been his normal self, catching 22 balls for 420 yards and two scores. His early departure against the Spartans clearly hurt Nebraska’s chances on offense – he had seven receptions for 81 yards and a score in 2013. From the sounds of it he will be back for the Northwestern game.
Sophomore Alonzo Moore struggled in the first half of the year, but had the biggest catch of his career against Michigan State late in the fourth quarter - that could give him the spark he needs. Despite starting multiple games this year, Moore only has six catches.
The dark horse for the group going forward could be the growth of freshman De’Mornay Pierson-El, who has shown on special teams he’s a weapon when he gets his hands on the ball. The bye week might have given the Nebraska staff a chance to coach him up a bit for a strong second half. At this point he only plays the slot, so either Tim Beck would have to use two slot receivers or Westerkamp would have to play another wide receiver spot to help Pierson-El see the field more.
The group came into fall camp with a couple questions, especially on the right side, but started the season looking like a front five that had grown up quickly in just a few short weeks. To this point, the only word that can be used to describe them has been inconsistent.
The season couldn’t have started better, with plenty of big holes against a lesser opponent in Florida Atlantic. Just two weeks later, Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah was saying the front five needed to be more consistent after matchups with McNeese State and Fresno State.
It was then on to Michigan State, where not only did Nebraska’s front five get constantly beat by a talented Spartan defensive line, but the Huskers’ offensive line at times seemed like they weren’t even in the game. Head coach Bo Pelini said his guys got their “butt-kicked” up front, which means we are guessing a lot of attention was put on the group during the bye. Don’t be surprised to see a rejuvenated group against Northwestern, one that has something to prove.
If you are just checking in on Nebraska after six games, the running back position has been in pretty good hands.
Critics might look at Ameer Abdullah’s efforts against Michigan State (24 carries, 45 yards, two touchdowns) and question if the ground game is as good as some initial praise, but even after an abysmal game, Abdullah led the country in rushing yards. His offensive line didn’t help him out against Sparty either.
Abdullah has gone over the 200-yard mark three times this season and it’s likely to happen again.
If there has been any complaint about the position, it’s been the use of junior Imani Cross and sophomore Terrell Newby, who are both rushing for over 5.0 yards per carry, but only have 69 carries combined.
Cross received 22 carries against Illinois (a lot when the game wasn’t in doubt), but didn’t see a touch against Michigan State. Some have questioned if he would have been a nice change of pace? I tend to agree with head coach Pelini when he says it doesn’t matter what the game plan is when the offensive line is struggling up front.
After a year of experience and a full offseason in the Nebraska strength and conditioning program, many felt sophomore tight end Cethan Carter might become a main target for Armstrong. To this point, the position group has only a combined five catches for two touchdowns. Carter is out a few weeks with an undisclosed injury, which means Sam Cotton and fullback Andy Janovich find themselves the first option at the group - which is mainly used as a blocker for the running game.