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All Points West: Nebraska’s ready for a leader in Armstrong
November 13, 2014 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Some argue that leaders are born and others say they’re made.

I think they’re a little of both. Yeah, Gen. Patton, with all his brashness and bravado, could have been no other way in a win-loss situation against the Nazis with their backs against the wall in WWII. The situation helped to mold him into something legendary, maybe even mythical.

Seemingly as chaotic, the college football season is two-thirds of the way to closing out. November is the time for teams to make their move.

Heading into the game against the Wisconsin Badgers (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten), Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) climbs to No. 11 in the Coaches Poll thanks to an unpredictable season of upsets. The Huskers must rely on leader QB Tommy Armstrong through whom the offense flows. Is the confidence there, like a half-crazed general? Check. Is the athletic ability there? Double-check. So, what’s stopping this man with Texas football roots from rallying his team in the big moments — the crucial moments when scores matter? In Nebraska’s single loss to the Michigan State Spartans, Armstrong had his team in the red zone with the opportunity to tie the game or get the go-ahead score. Yet, he throws a pick and game over.

There’s no need to overanalyze what Tommy did. Under pressure, either the defense’s or his own or a mix of both, he fell short. I partly blame the coaches who should have called a time out, faked an injury or something to bring the moment into perspective. A true quarterback’s mentor, like Husker alum, Turner Gill, would do wonders for the man under center. Armstrong’s skillset is nothing less than a Johnny Manziel or a Marcus Mariota. Sticking to the game plan is good but just might be his undoing if it stifles his God-given natural abilities to become a dangerous dual threat.

As I predicted, the Spartans were gassed, and they tend to lie down in the fourth quarter. So, I concluded Tommy’s thinking gets in the way of his doing. MSU, although a good, experienced veteran team, showed just that against Ohio State. Granted the Buckeyes had a chip on their shoulder coming into the game in this past Saturday’s rematch at East Lansing and succeeded in avenging the previous year’s loss to the Spartans in a game which had at stake, the conference title and subsequent Rose Bowl bid. Now, Nebraska, expected to plow through the rest of its schedule with Minnesota and Iowa tacked on the end, is headed toward facing the Buckeyes in Indianapolis on Dec. 6 for the conference top spot.

This past week, the Big Ten Network re-aired a post-game press conference following the victory over Purdue in Lincoln. Commenting on the Huskers’ most recent action, Armstrong admitted that if Nebraska plays as half-assed as it did against the lowly Boilermakers, then they would probably lose a few more games.

Although he didn’t say it, Armstrong meant the important matchup at Camp Randall this Saturday. In a stinging indictment against his own play, the QB took responsibility for the Huskers’ errors but also challenged the rest of the team to get better, too. This is exactly what a leader should do. Just like Armstrong’s own lapses, the offensive line can ill afford to take plays off. I’m sure the film on the Huskers has made the conference rounds and the Badgers, Golden Gophers, and Hawkeyes all know what gaps to fill in countering Armstrong, Abdullah, and supporting cast.

On the D side of the ball, DT Randy Gregory and company just keep getting better and may prove to be the Huskers’ saving grace down the stretch. And just in time: Big Ten teams are rising in the playoff committee’s poll. God forbid the Badgers leap-frog the pack and catapult into contention in this topsy-turvy season.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Depending on which Nebraska team shows up, the Huskers can make a statement to the conference as a national title contender with the ego of a Patton, or Big Red can wallow in mediocrity for a few more years and think that Mr. Armstrong needs more time to mature. This could be a defining year for the quarterback, the Huskers and Husker nation. Or, this team can sit content to watch the big dogs battle it out in the four-team joke of a tournament.

First and foremost, Nebraska has the talent. The wheels and determination of I-back Ameer Abdullah have been proved time and again against multiple opponents. When they are catching consistently, the sure hands of Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp serve as a much needed balance to the creative play calling by Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck, who is in his seventh year on the Nebraska staff. Fans: the Huskers appear to be closing the book on the option attack. There is no sign of recruiting a bruising fullback the likes of Tom Rathman, Cory Schlesinger, and Joel Makovicka.

The time is ripe for Nebraska to find its identity. With the prospect of clearing the backfield and limiting the placement of the I-back in certain running plays with what’s on the shelf, De’Mornay Pierson-El or Terrell Newby seem a likely successor to Abdullah. This is where Coach Bo Pelini should take his cue and apply his vision. Building a dynasty doesn’t happen overnight.

As for the tourney, open up eight spots and I might take it seriously. Five power conferences should get an automatic bid, with three at-large bids. Undefeated Marshall might have something to say. In a realm of possibilities, what if the Thundering Herd pulled off an upset against, let’s say, Alabama in the first round? Imagine the TV viewership explosion. Such an event would essentially put an end to the ESPN–SEC love-fest that keeps Big Ten teams out of national brand recognition. Then, factor in how the playoff brackets would match up with the major bowls. Let me be sentimental for a moment and say how I long for the days of throwing oranges onto the field.

In the same vein, the Huskers have just as much chance as the next guy at the national title but they also have just as much chance at shooting themselves in the foot. If Patton were alive today, what would he have to say about losing or winning important battles, on the way to winning the war?
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