Tommy Armstrong was strapped to an IV with minutes left, seemingly unable to move. Cramps halted Nebraska’s momentum dead in its tracks. It was shaping up to be another one of those games.

Just like BYU. Just like Miami. Just like Wisconsin. Just like Illinois. Just like Northwestern. Nebraska would find another way to lose. Only this time, it would come in the shape of a dehydrated quarterback. Fire up the annual “Nebraska-can’t-win-the-big-one” narrative.

Not so fast.

Cramps didn’t prevent Armstrong from finding openings in a seemingly gassed Oregon defense. They didn’t prevent Armstrong from somehow shaking loose for the game’s go-ahead touchdown. Whatever the senior had left in the tank, he gave.

You can bet Mike Riley is eternally grateful for that. Armstrong’s late heroics gave Riley his first win against Oregon in eight tries. With that, Riley gained actual momentum — something he couldn’t afford to leave Memorial Stadium without — at the expense of his old rival.

This felt like a make-or-break game for Riley’s public perception. That was the storyline all week, and deservingly so. After all, he was still looking for first meaningful regular-season win in Lincoln. Saturday was different than the Michigan State game last year.

The significance is greater when you aren’t still trying to rid of the stench from a Purdue loss.


Armstrong, of course, didn’t play against Purdue. He wasn’t the face of one of the worst losses in program history. But it often felt like Armstrong was the face of Nebraska frustration. The interceptions, the 40-percent passing clips, the failed fourth-down conversions…all of those things seemed to come back to Armstrong. Fair or not, that’s what comes with the territory as a Nebraska quarterback.

And to be fair, Armstrong wasn’t perfect on Saturday. He still made a couple of throws across his body that should’ve been coached out of him when he took over for Taylor Martinez back in 2013. Those throws usually prevent Armstrong from having those signature moments.

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Don’t forget that Armstrong wasn’t the one who delivered the Hail Mary score against Northwestern back in 2013. That was Ron Kellogg III. Up until Saturday, one could’ve argued that the guy with one career start had a better moment than the guy who started the last four years.

On Saturday, Armstrong finally got the moment he was waiting for.

Nebraska hasn’t had many — if any — wins like Saturday’s since it joined the B1G in 2011. The Huskers lost their first game against a ranked team all but one of those years. That streak actually dated back to 2005. When was the only time that didn’t happen? That was last year against Michigan State when they already had six losses under their belts.

Finally, there’s optimism in Lincoln. There isn’t some looming game against a ranked team after a 4-0 start against cupcakes.

Look at Nebraska’s first four games to start off B1G play:

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Crazy things can happen — look at what happened to Iowa on Saturday — but the Huskers are in as good of position as they’ve been in a long time. That’s big for recruiting, that’s big for public support and that’s big for the brand.

Inevitably, the Huskers will crack the top 25 on Sunday for the first time in the Riley era. Sure, those showdowns at Ohio State and Wisconsin could determine if Nebraska can pull off a truly special season.

But those games didn’t matter on Saturday.

All that mattered was that Nebraska got to enjoy a quality win without the never-ending concern of what it means long-term. The Huskers will be one of the great stories of the week, and not in a negative way.

Armstrong doesn’t have to spend a week thinking about what could’ve been. He made the right decisions down the stretch and put the Husker offense on his back, despite being in obvious pain.

Now, expectations will reach a new high. With the favorable schedule ahead, many are going to say Nebraska has top-10 potential in the coming weeks. Armstrong and the Huskers have to manage a different kind of hype. There are more people patting him on the back than ever before.

But man, he earned it on Saturday.