NASHVILLE — You can’t have a bowl game without a big bowl-game banquet. Nebraska and Tennessee took part in that Thursday at the Opryland Hotel, which preceded joint press conferences with the Nebraska and Tennessee coaches.
And, while no one is preparing for anything other than Ryker Fyfe starting at quarterback for the Cornhuskers, Mike Riley said that Nebraska was going to wait until after its practice Thursday afternoon to determine if Tommy Armstrong Jr. would be available for emergency duty.
“We’ll see what he can possibly do today,” Riley said. “I’m talking about in a situation if we have to for some reason play a third guy, that he could go in there, make it look like football, hand the ball off.”
“That means he’s starting tomorrow,” Tennessee Coach Butch Jones said with a laugh.
Emergency availability or not, that will make Friday’s Music City Bowl Fyfe’s showcase, at least from Nebraska’s perspective. The start will be just the third of Fyfe’s career.
“He’s been dialed in,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “He’s really worked hard in the preparation part of it, studying and getting himself in a position to play his best football.”
Fyfe’s first career start came last year against Purdue, a 55-45 loss in West Lafayette. That game may be remembered as more nightmarish than it actually was. Fyfe did throw four interceptions, but completed 60 percent of his passes and also threw four touchdowns for a passer rating of 142.47.
His second start came in November of this season, a 28-7 win over Maryland. Fyfe put in a workmanlike performance, throwing for 220 yards and a touchdown while completing 62 percent of his passes (121.03).
The difference with this week’s game, however, is that Fyfe has known he was likely the guy since early December. Langsdorf said that’s been the source of some momentum for the former walk-on from Grand Island.
“He needed some more work. It was helpful that we had this much prep time for the game,” Langsdorf said. “It kind of got him some work and some things that he may not have had. He performed well in the Maryland game when he played.
“With this amount of time to practice I think we hit a lot of different things and got him up to speed on some stuff that he might not have repped as much.”
Is the fact that Fyfe hasn’t played much to this point a potential edge for Nebraska?
“There’s enough film on Fyfe,” said Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who joined the Vols this season from Penn State. “I was in the Big Ten the last two years. We didn’t play Nebraska, but I’ve seen them on film for different reasons. Tremendous amount of respect for their offense.”
It hurts any team when it loses a multi-year starter like Armstrong, but Tennessee’s staff agreed that Fyfe has proven more than capable, in limited opportunities, of operating Nebraska’s offense.
“In their offense, it looks like the quarterback doesn’t have to win the game, he has to manage the game,” Jones said. “They have the versatility to do what they do well. It may also afford themselves to be able to do some different things as well.”
“[Fyfe] can throw the ball,” Shoop said. “I admire guys like him. He’s a senior, stuck around the program. Worked his way up, having an opportunity to play in a bowl game for a great program like Nebraska. We know what he’s capable of doing.”