Leading up to the start of the 2016 season, we’ll preview three key factors for every B1G team to have success.
Here are Nebraska’s:
1. Tommy’s strong arm shouldn’t dictate offense
The point has been hammered home already. Nebraska’s offense operated much more smoothly when some of the weight was lifted from Armstrong’s shoulders. That was never more apparent than in the Foster Farms Bowl against UCLA. The Huskers scored 37 points, racked up 500 yards of offense, only 174 of which came through the air.
Despite having 33 starts and 6,691 yards to his name, Armstrong can’t be the sole provider for Nebraska’s offense. Running the football has to be a weapon in order to be successful this season. The Huskers certainly have the personnel to be effective with Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo rotating at the I-back position. Armstrong’s ability to pick up chunks of yardage with his legs is an asset, as well.
Nebraska was 4-1 in games when Armstrong threw 30 or fewer passes. Mike Riley needs to keep his quarterback under that mark as many times as possible.
2. Eliminate big pass plays
Do you remember Tanner Mangum’s 42-yard Hail Mary that pushed BYU over Nebraska in last year’s season-opener? Or how about Wes Lunt’s touchdown strike with 10 seconds left that gave Illinois a 14-13 win over the Huskers?
Those were just a few of the pass plays that haunted the Huskers last season.
Nebraska surrendered 290.5 yards per game through the air in 2015, the second-worst average in the B1G. It also gave up 26 pass plays that resulted in 30-plus yards, the highest number in the conference. That’s an area in dire need of correcting.
A new coaching staff and new scheming is partly responsible for the Huskers woes defending the pass. They do bring back all of last year’s secondary, anchored by safety Nate Gerry. Returning that experience is a good thing, especially with a full year of the new system under their belt. Now that the personnel is more acquainted with the coaching staff, this should be a much improved area for Nebraska.
Even if Nebraska’s defense continues to struggle slowing down the air strike, it needs to shut down big play opportunities. Allowing more than 20 plays that end in 30, 40, or 50-yard gains would be disastrous.
3. Closing time
Disappointment. Heartbreak. Shock.
Those are the best descriptors of Nebraska’s 2015 campaign. There aren’t many ways to characterize losing five games by a combined 13 points, so many of those contests coming down to the final seconds. For whatever reason, the Huskers couldn’t slam the door on their opponents last season. Even in great position to win games, Nebraska found a way to squander the opportunity.
If games were 15 seconds shorter, Riley would’ve seen his team finish the season with a respectable 9-4 mark. That’s how close they were in so many games a year ago.
Nebraska is going to find itself in tight situations again this fall. If they hope to be a dark horse in a division up for grabs, the Huskers will need to close out those games they let slip away.