We all knew the looming question entering the game. Was Nebraska’s offense going to look similar to the one that dominated UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl Last year? Or was Tommy Armstrong going to drop back 30 or more times like he did so frequently throughout 2015?
That question got answered.
Armstrong threw just 10 passes in Saturday’s game against Fresno State, completing five for 108 yards and a touchdown. Instead of placing the heavy burden on the shoulders of the quarterback – which hasn’t produced the best results in the past – the Huskers ran the ball 50 times, gaining 294 yards and scoring five touchdowns on the ground.
It appears as though the running backs, Devine Ozigbo and Terrell Newby, will be the workhorses on offense this fall. Armstrong is there to keep defenses honest and off-balance.
Nebraska won’t skew to far from the game plan it implemented against Fresno State in the Week 1 match-up?
How do I know?
The Huskers had trouble moving the football at times throughout the contest. They encountered three-and-outs, struggled to find the end zone early and had some issues along the offensive line. But Mike Riley never panicked. The play-calling never strayed too far off the roadmap that was designed for this season.
Unlike the past, Nebraska stayed the course. Rather than having Armstrong sling passes across the field trying to create offense, the Huskers relied on wearing down the defense and letting the offense come to them.
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Just like it did last December against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl. In that game, Nebraska totaled 500 yards of offense with 324 of those coming from the ground. Armstrong threw just 19 passes in the 37-29 win.
Nebraska won 43-10 Saturday night.
Throwing the football is going to be a temptation for the Huskers this season. With Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly and De’Mornay Pierson-El all capable of breaking free on any given play, it’s hard to ignore those weapons. But Riley resisted the urge and showed us a scheme that can result in even more wins in his second year in Lincoln.
In addition to his passing numbers, Armstrong had 42 yards and reached the end zone twice on the ground. His most impressive play of the night came on his fourth completion, a 57-yard touchdown strike to Alonzo Moore that gave the Huskers a 36-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
With Nebraska tightening the chains on its passing attack, opportunities for big gains through the air should become more present. The play-action can be an effective weapon. Overall, the offense will be in better shape.
There is no magic number for Armstrong this season. 10 passes is a pretty low starting point and I wouldn’t expect the senior quarterback to linger in the teens in pass attempts all season long. Anything less than 30 has typically been a good number, though, and the closer to 20-25 mark, likely the better.
After an offseason of the fans and media nagging at Riley to run the football and keep Armstrong’s pitch count lower, it looks like the Huskers have developed an effective strategy to do that. Ozigbo and Newby are critical pieces in the new role. In order for Nebraska to continue to have success, they have to continue to be effective out of the backfield.
That shouldn’t be an issue for most of the season.
Regardless of the production the Huskers get from their backfield, they have the right offensive approach. After a 5-7 season and some unhappy customers inside the Memorial Stadium gates, Saturday’s 43-point performance was a welcomed sign.
Riley has implemented the right scheme that best fits his team. We should be seeing Nebraska in the victory formation a lot more frequently this fall.