LINCOLN, Neb. — Motivation is a common theme come bowl time and in many cases how much a team wants to be there swings the outcome of the game. With a 10th win on the line, the Nebraska coaches don’t seem to think motivation will be an issue against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
“I think our practices have been good,” linebackers coach Trent Bray said. “Guys are buying in and that’s the big thing in these bowl games is guys wanting to play. I feel that’s our group; they want to play and I think we’ll go out and play well.”
With each passing day it looks more and more likely that senior Ryker Fyfe will start at quarterback as Tommy Armstrong Jr. continues to recover from his hamstring injury. Fyfe is recovering from his own injury — a broken bone in his left wrist — and still isn’t taking many snaps under center, but Nebraska expects him to get his cast off next week as he continues to improve. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said there was a lot to like in Fyfe’s last start, a senior day win against Maryland.
“I thought he was really poised, I thought he threw the ball accurately, I thought he made good decisions,” Langsdorf said. “He actually had a nice scramble on a bootleg for a run, had a couple reads that looked good. He just hasn’t played a ton, but I think he’s gotten a lot of work in bowl prep which has been good for him. He’s looked sharp. I’m excited for him the way he’s been playing. I feel good about going into this game with him.”
Langsdorf said the offense won’t go through any drastic changes with Fyfe taking snaps in Armstrong’s place, although the running backs will likely see a few more carries rather than Fyfe running as much as Armstrong would.
“It’s not that we wouldn’t have some stuff for Ryker; I think we’re a little different that way, but we’re going to have to block them either way,” Langsdorf said. “We’re going to have to be able to run and protect; that’s going to be an important part of it against a really good defensive line.”
On defense, the Huskers are still working to assimilate new cornerbacks coach and recruiting ace Donte Williams into the team, and so far the transition has been pretty smooth according to defensive coordinator Mark Banker.
“I think [he’s meshed] pretty well,” Banker said. “He comes with a background as far as a recruiter, and the recruiting part of it is about relationships and getting along with people, so I think that’s kind of natural. Interaction specifically hasn’t necessarily been there right now; it’s been more from an observation standpoint, in our meetings listening to all of us talk and comment on the schematic and things. I think it’s been fine at this point in time.”
Current cornerbacks coach Brian Stewart is still handling his normal duties while Williams observes and occasionally offers some advice. Over the offseason, Banker (who has been coaching safeties), Stewart (who will shift over to coach safeties next year) and Williams will sit down and get on the same page as they move forward.
“The one thing that we will do, and this is what’s great about the offseason is we go through and we look at what has gone on in that season,” Banker said. “We break things down — the positive things, the negative things, anything we want to change. I think the three of us, what we’ll do, is we’ll sit down all the way from run support to the obvious thing, which would be pass coverage and technique.”
As for the linebackers, senior Josh Banderas has high expectations for and confidence in the players that will be stepping in for himself and his future outgoing seniors.
“I’m very confident in them,” Banderas said. “Smart guys, and a lot of them have playing experience. They’ve been in these games. There’s going to be no drop off and they’re probably going to be a little bit better next year for the linebackers.”
Chris Weber will have the first crack at taking over for Banderas in the middle.
“Webby’s going to be fine,” Banderas said. “He’s going to be the leader of the defense. He’s going to go out there and get everybody lined up. If a couple guys don’t know what they’re doing, he’ll be able to tell them what they’re doing and still do his job. Webby will be fine out there. From the games he’s played, you’ve seen he can make some plays.”
Bray echoed Banderas’s faith in Weber.
“I would feel comfortable starting Chris and playing Chris all year,” Bray said. “Having him back next year is going to be a big thing for our group and that leadership and just knowledge that he has, it will have to play.”
That group of linebackers includes a few young players who will be fighting for roles next season, and Bray provided an update on three of them — Greg Simmons, Mohamed Barry and Tyrin Ferguson.
“With Greg, he’s really changed his body,” Bray said. “He’s cut some of the weight and some of the things so now we can spend this offseason really building him back up, so that’s a positive thing. He’s moving better. Mohamed is continuing to grow; he’s doing a lot of really good things. He’s going to be a guy, if he keeps going, that’s going to push people for their spot next year. Tyrin, we’re kind of finding that out now. We redshirted him this year so he took some time off, so he’s kind of getting back into it so these practices will be big for him and getting back into it to give himself spring to really show what he can do … We’ll see [where he’s going to play]. It kind of depends on where he can help us best and where other guys fit as well.”
The idea has been floated by some that an alteration to rules for bowl games that could benefit teams would be to allow redshirting players to participate without forfeiting a year of eligibility. However, Banderas isn’t all that thrilled about the idea.
“I think there would be a lot more that don’t like it than would like it just because it’s the last time we’re playing as this group and you’ve got seniors and maybe a couple seniors that didn’t get to play very much that this is their last chance to play for Nebraska,” Banderas said. “To kind of just throw a freshman in there to see what he’s going to be able to do for next year, it just kind of might feel like you’re kind of getting pushed to the side, like you’re already out when we still have one game left. I kind of like how it is now.”
As for Banderas, he said he loves bowl games just the way they are.
“For the most part, from what I’ve heard, I love bowl games,” Banderas said. “It’s another chance to go out and be with your teammates and put something else out there on the resume. More than anything, it just extends the time with your teammates. Instead of being done after Thanksgiving, you get another month with your friends and out here playing around.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.