As Nebraska prepares to face Illinois this Saturday, there is plenty to talk about in Husker Nation. That was highlighted in the questions we received for this week’s mailbag. From Michael Rose-Ivey’s speech on Monday to the best defense in the Big Ten West, there was quite a variety to choose from. We even got quite a few on Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has had a pretty good senior season so far.
Jacob Padilla, Jake Jensen and Erin Sorensen answer your questions in this week’s Hail Varsity mailbag.
Q: Is Armstrong elite? – M.A., Lincoln, Neb.
JP: Well, let’s limit our scope to just the Big Ten for now. Here is a big list of Armstrong’s statistics and where they rank in the conference to this point: 232.8 passing yards per game (5th), 56.6% completion rate (12th; career-high, but still not great), 8 passing touchdowns (tied for 3rd), 1 interception (tied for 2nd), an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio (tied for 3rd), 8.8 yards per pass attempt (3rd), a 153.4 passer rating (3rd), 70.25 rushing yards per game (1st among quarterbacks), 4 rushing touchdowns (1st among quarterbacks, tied for 4th overall), 5.40 yards per carry (1st among QBs), 12 total touchdowns (2nd among quarterbacks and overall) and 303 total yards per game (3rd among quarterbacks and overall). There is a strong argument to be made that Armstrong has been the second best quarterback in the conference behind Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.
JJ: I wouldn’t say elite, but I would say much improved. Armstrong has always been a dangerous weapon; the problem was he was dangerous to opponents and Nebraska. This year he has done a solid job of limiting his mistakes and taking advantage of his opportunities.
Also, Danny Langsdorf deserves huge credit for being willing to alter his offensive philosophies to bring out the best in Nebraska’s most important player. Most coaches wouldn’t be able to put aside their ego to do that.
Q: Does the fact that Westerkamp and Armstrong are roommates affect their relationship on the field? – N.M., Lincoln, Neb.
ES: Sometimes I like to joke when Armstrong overthrows Westerkamp or completely ignores him when he’s open that they must be fighting at home. One must have not put their dishes in the dishwasher, etc. However, I think the two are genuinely very good friends and they support each other immensely. I think you see and hear that in their actions and words toward one another on and off the field. It’s definitely not a bad thing to have the quarterback and one of the better receivers be friends and roommates.
Q: Armstrong has a Secretariat sized heart, yes? He’d play Monopoly for 48 hours straight until he came out on top, right? – B.S.
JJ: Armstrong doesn’t strike me as a Monopoly guy. I picture him more as an UNO guy who just destroys you with the ‘draw four’ card.
ES: OK, but I see what you’re suggesting. He’ll fight and fight to win until he can’t fight anymore and yes, that is how I read him too. Nebraska’s success lives and dies by Armstrong. He is Secretariat.
Q: Who’s got the best defense in the Big Ten West? – K.H., Grand Island, Neb.
JP: At this point of the season, I’d have to go with Wisconsin. The Badgers have the top-scoring defense in the Big Ten as a whole at 11.8 points given up per game. Wisconsin just held Michigan State to six points and the Badgers limited LSU to 14 points in week one. Wisconsin has allowed just five touchdowns, second fewest in the conference to Ohio State’s 4 (in three games). The Badgers are also second to only the Buckeyes in total yards surrendered per game in the conference at 277 per game. Finally, Wisconsin has forced nine turnovers, third in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (11) and Nebraska (10).
JJ: Wisconsin. Their defense is the sole reason I don’t despise them. Watching their front seven in action is a football purists dream. For the past two seasons, the defensive linemen and linebackers have been in complete sync with another. Also, nobody, I mean NOBODY, times up their blitzes as well as Wisconsin’s linebackers.
Q: Brave statement by Michael Rose-Ivey. Any impact on the team? – B.N., Lincoln, Neb.
JP: If anything, I think this might just bring the team closer together. I’ve seen nothing but support for Michael Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry from the other Huskers.
JJ: I think the best part of this is that it was explained to the team prior to it happening. The team at least got to hear why Rose-Ivey, Neal and Barry did what they did, so they can at least understand where they are coming from even if they don’t agree with them. It was a well-communicated statement.
ES: I think what Sam Hahn tweeted yesterday is the most telling. They all love and support each other as teammates, no matter what.
Q: Do you think the “anthem kneel” will be a distraction for this Husker team? – T.K., Neb.
JP: I don’t see why it would be. I think the “distraction” card is played for too often when talking about sports. There certainly are some situations that can spill over onto the field of play, but when the game begins I really don’t think anybody on the team is going to be worrying about Rose-Ivey’s posture during the national anthem.
JJ: For the team? No. For the fans? Absolutely. I love them to death, but Husker fans tend to overreact to everything, and this will be no different.
ES: I’ll take what Jake said one-step further because it’s not just Nebraska fans that overreact. All fans do of any team. It’s easy to wonder if what’s happening with your favorite sports team off the field will affect them on the field. In this case, I don’t think Nebraska fans have anything to worry about.
Q: Will Wilbon finally become a bigger part of the running game? – T.
JP: Last Wednesday, running backs coach Reggie Davis said “Mikale’s got a chance to be able to help us out quite a bit,” and Wilbon responded to his opportunity with six carries for 55 yards near his hometown of Chicago. Now, there are only so many carries to go around the with Armstrong getting double-digit carries every game there are even fewer for the backs. However, Wilbon is a capable runner who can help the team. I doubt we see him replicate his performance against Northwestern every week, but I would be surprised if he completely disappears like he did last year.
JJ: I think that Wilbon jumped Bryant for 3rd string duties after last Saturday’s game, but I don’t expect the rotation to change much. Neither Ozigbo or Newby played their best, but the duo still combined for 110 yards on 23 carries, which isn’t a bad day by any means. Those guy should continue to combine for 25+ carries a game the rest of the year as long as they stay healthy. Add in TA getting 10-15 carries a game and there’s just not a lot of carries to go around.
Q: Who are the scout team players that are impressing this year? – C.H.
JJ: I heard David Engelhaupt did the gallon of milk challenge and didn’t throw up. That’s pretty impressive.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.