The Hail Varsity staff offers three final takeaways from the Huskers’ 24-17 win over Minnesota.
Running back Tre Bryant’s Nebraska career got off to a fast start with 70 yards on 12 carries in his first two games. However, in games three through nine, Bryant got just six touches on offense, five of which came in Nebraska’s win at Indiana. However, Bryant understands his role and said it hasn’t been hard for him as he waits his turn.
However, on Saturday, the 5-foot-11 freshman got a chance to make a play. On fourth-and-2 at the Minnesota 35, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf called his number.
“[It’s been] just a lot of learning, a lot of ups and downs, just keep moving forward … It’s just showing the hard work is starting to pay off … I just appreciate that the coaches trust me enough to get me out there. For a freshman, that’s a pretty big deal. I just wanted to make the best of it.”
Make the best of it he did. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. hit Bryant coming out of the backfield and the freshman turned on the jets, sprinting down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown that put the Huskers ahead 10-1 early in the second quarter.
“The thing about him is he takes a perfect angle to it, and that’s easier said than done,” Langsdorf said. “When you’re running from the backfield looking back, you can tend to drift and I thought he had a great angle, caught it, it was a good throw, a catch-and-run play where he can keep his speed up. He just turned around the corner and scored. It was a really nice play.”
The touchdown came at a time when Nebraska really needed it. The previous drive stalled out in Minnesota territory and Nebraska had to settle for a field goal. As he has more than a few times this season, Mike Riley put his faith in his players on fourth down and it paid off.
“It was huge at the beginning of the game there to get one in there and put some points on the board, especially coming off of two games where we kind of stalled a little bit, so to speak,” wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said. “But it was huge to have that. That was a big moment for us.”
Bryant may not be a major part of the offense this year, but the speedy freshman gave Husker fans a glimpse of the future on Saturday, and the future is bright indeed.
Before Nebraska faced Wisconsin, a lot of people commented on just how “loose” the team appeared. They were riding out of practice piled on golf carts and making jokes in interviews. It was no surprise that the Huskers then played the Badgers so tough and close.
A lot of emotions were stored behind that loss to Wisconsin. The Huskers may not have admitted, but you could feel it. The pressure felt more magnified in practice and the players weren’t quite as loose as they had been the week before. Combined with an Ohio State team looking to make a statement, it was the perfect storm against Nebraska.
After losing 62-3 to the Buckeyes, people wondered how Nebraska would respond. Would the team be even tighter than before? Would they find a way to loosen up? Even head coach Mike Riley wondered.
“Well I think that the biggest hurdle that we had to overcome was the mental part of absolutely getting beat like we did a week ago,” Riley said. “I think it’s very important to state that. That is absolutely the biggest hurdle. I was worried that this team, who had won four in a row. We came off of two losses, one a real-bad loss. It should be pointed out that that combination doesn’t feel really comfortable except with this team. I really had faith that this team would come back and play, and they did.”
And so Nebraska did exactly what Riley thought they might. They responded. It wasn’t perfect and there were moments the Huskers will need to watch on film and correct, but it was a win.
For now, that feels like more than enough.
At best, Tommy Armstrong Jr. has four games left as a Nebraska Cornhusker. He has started 43 games at Nebraska — tied with Taylor Martinez for the most in school history for a quarterback — yet it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere near to the conclusion of the story. Or, rather, reaching a conclusion on Armstrong’s career at Nebraska.
It’s complicated. He’s inconsistent but consistently tough as hell. There have been times over the past three-plus seasons when it looked like the Huskers were never going to win big with him at quarterback. There have been times, like on Saturday, when it looked like he was the only reason the Huskers did win.
Against Minnesota, Armstrong accounted for nearly three-quarters of Nebraska’s total yards. He threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another, giving him 90 touchdowns for his career, tying Eric Crouch’s school record. He completed 70.4 percent of his 27 passes, a career high minus the time he completed 12-of-15 in his first game back in 2013. “Gutsy” seems to be the most common adjective used in the hours since the win, and it fits.
It has always fit with Armstrong. That’s never been in question. How his career will be remembered still is, however. After battling back from an ankle injury late in the game, Armstrong appeared to hurt his hamstring on the final touchdown run. It will make for another will-he-or-won’t-he week. Feels about right for a career that is still tough to totally peg.
It’s sort of remarkable to realize that when you combine the Armstrong and Martinez eras, Husker fans have had almost eight years of “who knows?” when it came to quarterback play. The highs, and Saturday night was one of those, sometimes felt remarkably high. The lows occasionally felt pretty low. I guess the real difference here is that Martinez didn’t get the chance to write the end to his own story.
Armstrong probably will. Nebraska needs help to win the West Division, but it doesn’t need help to finish 10-2. In year two of a new coaching regime, that record might be as meaningful as anything.
There are only four games left at best, but Armstrong still has a lot of writing to do.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.