On this Thanksgiving weekend, Husker fans can be thankful for Ryker Fyfe – the Grand Island Gunslinger, the walk-on turned scholarship player, the back-up turned starter for a week – who stepped in and played the best football of his career in the first half against Maryland to lead Nebraska to a win and keep the dream of a 10-win season alive. Give thanks, too, to Danny Langsdorf and the way he called that game to get Fyfe into a rhythm early.
Let’s break down Fyfe’s strong first half to see how he was able to have success in his second career start.
First Throw – Incomplete
Fyfe actually got off to a rough start, missing his first throw on an otherwise well-executed play. Nebraska ran a sail route, with the outside receiver running deep, tight end Cethan Carter running an intermediate route and running back Terrell Newby running into the flat.
Carter got open running towards the sideline, but Fyfe’s throw is high and Carter was only able to get one hand on it.
Second Throw – Complete to Jordan Wetserkamp
After the incomplete pass on first down and a 1-yard run on second down, the Huskers are in danger of going three-and-out on their first drive.
Needing a big play, Fyfe does the smart thing and looks to Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s roommate on third down. Despite having a deep middle safety, the nickel lines up to take away the slant to the middle. Westerkamp reads that and runs his route to the outside.
Westerkamp gets a step on the nickel, but the window is pretty tight. Fyfe sees it and lets it fly.
The sure-handed Westerkamp jumps up and makes a great catch over the top, and then fights forward for another 5 yards.
Needing 9, Westerkamp picked up 26 yards and saved what looked like a disastrous first drive. Fyfe made a great throw and Westerkamp made an even better catch.
Third Throw – Complete to Bryan Reimers
After a couple of runs, Langsdorf called Fyfe’s number again on first-and-10 inside the red zone. Westerkamp shows bubble screen, so the slot corner jumps at him. For some reason, the outside corner drops way back against the walk-on Reimers on the outside.
Reimers reads how deep his man is and cuts his route to the inside. Fyfe sees it and makes the throw.
The throw is on time and on target and Reimers hauls it in and falls forward for the first down.
The play goes for 10 yards on an easy read and throw for Fyfe. That’s two easy reads with sizable windows out of Fyfe’s first three throws. Newby punched it in from 8 yards out on the next play.
Fourth Throw – Complete to Brandon Reilly
Moving ahead to the second drive, Newby picked up 5 yards on a first down run, giving the Huskers the chance to run or pass. Play action is a quarterback’s best friend, and they use it here. First, the outside receiver runs a jet motion. On the other side, Brandon Reilly runs a slant.
Fyfe fakes the hand-off to both Newby and Westerkamp on the sweep as Reilly runs his route across the field.
Feeling pressure in his face, Fyfe gets the throw out (off his back foot no less)
Fyfe hits Reilly all the way on the other side of the field, and the senior catches the ball and turns it up field toward the sideline.
Reilly tacks on an extra 8 yards after the catch.
Reilly picked up 24 yards. Newby put his quarterback in a great spot with the successful first down play, Langsdorf drew up a nice play and Fyfe did a good job of standing in there and making the throw with pressure in his face.
Newby picked up 1 yard on a run on the next play, and then Mikale Wilbon dropped the ball on a screen pass, setting up a third and 11.
Sixth Throw – Complete to Westerkamp
The Huskers draw up a nice play, but they don’t quite execute it perfectly. The plan here is for Carter to run straight up field and for Westerkamp to cross underneath him.
However, Carter gets jammed up on the defender, forcing Westerkamp to run his route a little shorter than he should have. Still, the mesh route gets Westerkamp open.
Fyfe makes the throw and Westerkamp catches it about 5 yards short of the line to gain but fights forward for a few more yards.
It’s still a good gain, but it sets up a fourth down.
First Run – QB Draw
We all know Mike Riley has no qualms about going for it on fourth down, but I think more than a few people were surprised by the play call. On fourth-and-2, three receivers line up right with one to the left and a back next to Fyfe.
It’s a quarterback draw. Fyfe drops back as if he were going to pass, then plants his foot and takes off running. Left tackle Nick Gates and left guard Jerald Foster open up a big hole through the B gap, and Fyfe follows Newby through it.
I have no idea what Newby is doing here other than taking himself out of the play. There’s no one there for him to block. Anyway, Fyfe has already picked up the first and has plenty of turf in front of him.
Fyfe reaches the 5-yard line before the defense gets to him, although I wonder what would have happened had Newby actually stick with the play and thrown a block.
Fyfe, known for his arm and not necessarily his legs, picked up 14 yards and a first down on a designed quarterback run. Newby scored on the next play.
Fyfe’s seventh pass was a short one to Alonzo Moore for 6 yards. The pass was off-target but Moore still brought it in.
Fyfe finished the first quarter 5-of-7 for 76 yards.
Eighth Throw – Complete to Westerkamp
This next throw was less great execution by Nebraska and more the defense dropping the ball. Nebraska lines up in a tight formation on first-and-10 with Westerkamp in the slot (technically). I’m not exactly sure what to call his route, but I’ve tried to diagram it below.
Westerkamp actually cuts his route off and runs right to where a defender is waiting. Fyfe threw the ball anyway. Both players are in position to make a play on it.
Only Westerkamp does.
This was the first true YOLO ball of the game, and fortunately it was directed Westerkamp’s way. The play goes for 26 yards.
The next three plays are all passes – a bubble screen to Moore for 3, a halfback screen to Newby for 5 and a bubble screen to Westerkamp (which he caught with one hand) for 3. The rest of the drive consisted of runs and a sack before Spencer Lindsay’s blocked field goal.
Twelfth Pass – Complete to Reilly
After a sack on second down of Nebraska’s next drive, the Huskers face a third-and-4. Langsdorf turns to one of his favorite plays, a mesh route. Carter is going to line up left then cross right while Reilly goes over the middle from the opposite direction.
Carter gets in the way but doesn’t make contact, creating separation for Reilly.
Fyfe puts it on the money and Reilly falls forward to pick up 6 yards and the first down.
After a few runs, Fyfe throws a bubble screen to Moore for 3 yards, setting up second-and-7.
Thirteenth Pass – Screen Pass to Tre Bryant
On second-and-7, Nebraska lined up in one of their favorite formations – split backs with Bryant and Wilbon. Fyfe motioned Wilbon out to the right flat to start the play.
Fyfe faked to Wilbon first, then turned and hit Bryant as he slipped out of the backfield. Gates made a good block to give Bryan some space. Foster tried to do the same, but the guy slipped underneath him to stay in the play.
Bryant picked up the first down simply off of his speed and the blocking.
Instead of trying to cut it back inside, Bryant continued on up the sideline and got tripped up.
The play picked up 13 yards and moved the chains.
Nebraska tried split backs again, but this time Fyfe threw behind Wilbon and it fell incomplete. On second down, Fyfe either has a miscommunication with his intended receiver, Stanley Morgan Jr., or he read that nothing was open and threw the ball away. Either way, it’s incomplete.
Second Run – Quarterback Scramble
the Huskers line up with three receivers and two backs.
Maryland gets a bit of pressure up the middle and off the right side. Fyfe feels that pressure and rolls out to his right.
Fyfe originally keeps his eyes down field, but nobody is open. He sees an opening, pulls it down and takes off up field.
Fyfe gets past two Terrapins, crosses the line to gain then cuts back towards the middle of the field.
Maryland finally gets Fyfe down but not after a huge gain.
Fyfe turned a third-and-long into a 21-yard run, showing he can be a dual-threat quarterback when the situation calls for it.
Fyfe got pressure in his face on the next pass, and he never really had a chance to complete it. On the next on, Carter dropped it, perhaps losing it in the sun.
Seventeenth Pass – Complete to Carter
Carter’s drop set up another third and 10, but the Huskers went right back to their senior tight end with another mesh route.
The last mesh route had Carter setting the “pick” to free the receiver, but this time roles are reversed.
Westerkamp runs his crossing route deep and Carter crosses underneath and runs free.
Fyfe’s throw is on time and on target, and the rest is up to Carter. He turns and rumbles toward the line to gain. The receiver on the bottom of the screen throws a block.
Carter reaches the red zone before Maryland can track him down, an the clock stops as well with the first down.
A couple runs and a couple pass interference calls later, Fyfe hit Westerkamp for a touchdown to put the Huskers up 21-0 heading into halftime.
Fyfe finished the first half 14-of-20 for 153 yards and a touchdown an led the team on two other touchdown drives. Danny Langsdorf did a great job of keeping it simple for Fyfe with a lot of screens, mesh routes and slants to give him easy reads and throws, and Fyfe himself made a couple of special plays on his own.
The Huskers slowed down in the second half and Fyfe only completed nine of his 17 attempts for 67 yards, but even so, Fyfe more than did his job and led the Huskers to a win, something he and the team couldn’t pull off at Purdue last year.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.