Is it too simple to say that Saturday’s game will be decided by which team gets the best quarterback play?
Yes. Most things are too simple to say when you have to ask if it’s too simple to say, so let’s say instead that quarterback will be a major factor.
For Nebraska, the first question is who is playing quarterback. It’s looking more and more likely that Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be the starter, making the second question how well he can play, particularly in the passing game. Armstrong has now played 26 conference games over his career (throwing out the 2013 Penn State game, when Armstrong was injured and only took a handful of snaps). In those games he has completed 348-of-689 (50.5 percent) passes while throwing 30 touchdowns to 34 interceptions.
His numbers over the Huskers’ last five games have been even lower than those career marks. It goes without saying, but if Nebraska is to win out and stay in the division title race, Armstrong will have to be better. (And he could use some help from his run game. It’s not all on him.)
Mitch Leidner has also been quarterbacking his team since 2013. The best way to describe his 43 games to this point might be “solid.” When he’s good, it’s often the key to an efficient-but-not-explosive Gophers’ offense being good enough to win the game. Sometimes he’s capable of hurting teams on the ground — 74 yards last week, 76 in the 2016 opener, 111 against Nebraska in 2014 — at other times he’s been a smart passer (see his Michigan-Ohio State-Iowa stretch last year). But lately, things have been a bit of a struggle.
We’ll use ESPN’s adjusted QBR here because it accounts for both passing and running and adjusts for opponents. Over Leidner’s last four games — he didn’t play against Maryland after suffering a concussion late in the Iowa game the week before — his adjusted QBR has been (on a 100-point scale) 10.1, 29.5, 28.3 and 30.4. Based on this metric, that is the worst four-game stretch since his freshman year.
As Minnesota Coach Tracy Claeys put it this week (emphasis mine):
“[Six] of the games, he’s played awfully well, and a couple other ones, he’ll tell you he probably could have played better,” Claeys said. “The teams that do well and finish — their seniors have to play well. And he’s somebody that’s going to have to play well for us to get where we want to be.”
The same will go for Armstrong over these final three regular-season games. His last four outings — 48.1, 64.4, 46.1, 61.3 — have been better from an adjusted QBR perspective, but those last two numbers are getting major boosts based on opponent strength.
These two quarterbacks have played a combined 85 games. Is it too simple to say that a lot of how they are remembered will be decided over their final three games?
Of course it is. It is also too simple to say this one component will decide the pair’s final meeting.
But it will probably have a major say in things.
An Eye Towards the Tournament
In a move designed to drum up a little buzz for the NCAA Tournament, the Division I Women’s Volleyball Committee released will start releasing a weekly top 10.
“This is the first time the Division I Women’s Volleyball Committee has released a Top 10 ranking to increase excitement and awareness about the sport. It was a great exercise for the committee as selection Sunday approaches,” said Lisa Peterson, chair of the committee and Deputy Athletic Director/SWA at the University of Oregon.”
“We still have a lot of volleyball that will be played in the next few weeks and things may change, but this ranking allowed us to have discussions with input from our Regional Advisory Committee members that are like those that we will have during selection weekend. The parity in women’s volleyball is noteworthy and will make those selections challenging. The committee looks forward to the opportunity to re-evaluate the teams as the season progresses.”
The Grab Bag
- Chip Scoggins of the Star-Tribune looks at how Minnesota can beat Nebraska.
- On Wednesday, Nick Saban was asked what he thought about Tuesday’s election: “It was so important to me that I didn’t even know it was happening.”
- Worthwhile read on how Washington hired Chris Petersen.
- In other coaching news, Fresno State is reportedly set to hire former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford.
- Adam Rittenberg of ESPN on college football’s last tie — Illinois-Wisconsin in 1995.
Today’s Song of Today
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.