|All Points West: Huskers’ 5 wins enough|
|December 04, 2015 Frank Marquez|
The play-call late in the game with Nebraska deep in Iowa territory was baffling. Maybe Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf thought he could catch the Hawkeyes off guard, and be the kind of hero to pull a stunt nobody expected. Instead, the high-risk play looked foolish in front of a national audience, and Nebraska missed the chance of making another statement against a top-ranked team like it did against Michigan State. Instead, there was no encore upset.
In the end, the much deserved Hawks prevailed, 28-20.
Forget hindsight. This was something the new brain trust needed to talk about during the game. Coach Mike Riley should have taken a lengthy timeout to question Danny’s call. He should act like a head coach, and not a diplomat. This is football after all.
The play might have worked if conditions were better – otherwise the winds and fans howled at all the missed opportunity, which has become a pattern for Nebraska. If the Nebraska coaching staff had done its homework, the team might not be sitting at 5-7 crossing fingers and hoping for a post-season showcase, for what? According to sporting news sources, several five-win teams, including Nebraska, will play in the post-season, but fans won’t know what bowl until selection Sunday on Dec. 6.
When the Huskers enter the bowl fray, fans will probably witness more of the same sloppy, ineffective play, as the staff decides what to do with QB Tommy Armstrong even before the offseason begins. The inattentiveness to his decision making persists. It resulted in a few game-deciding turnovers – four interceptions in the game against the Hawks and 16 on the season. It may have accounted for half of Iowa’s scoring output. As astute colleagues put it, he was the Hawks’ MVP. Maybe Armstrong’s been allowed to shirk suggestions about his mechanics and footwork, reacting under pressure, and all the other skills learned in Quarterbacking 101, but smart money says it can’t continue.
Questions remain. Armstrong may be THE leader on offense, directing action on the field, but he might not be a great a leader off the field. Given, the Nov. 17 reports of a sexual assault the day after the Rutgers game at the off-campus apartment of the offensive duo of Armstrong and Wide Receiver Jordan Westerkamp were unfounded for lack of evidence. Regardless of what appears in the official logbooks, the news already burrowed into the heads of fans, who might wonder about the character of some of Nebraska’s players, if they don’t already.
This isn’t the first time Nebraska players’ names have appeared in association with unsavory, if not illegal activities. Armstrong and Westerkamp, among other Husker stars, should be serving as an example for the underclassmen coming onto the team. They should be held to a strict moral code already implemented by other NU athletic programs.
The incident might have colored the bye week for the Huskers and interfered with the in-depth planning sessions by coaches and players. In other words, Nebraska might have re-examined its mistake prone offense, and installed a half dozen safe plays, the ones less reliant on the wild arm and footwork of Armstrong.
Nebraska was at the Iowa 19 with 6:37 left in the third quarter behind 28-17. It was still early enough in the game to kick a field goal if nothing else. Armstrong threw an incomplete pass to Wide Receiver Brandon Reilly on fourth and 1 yard to go. Where was Imani Cross, Andy Janovich or Devine Ozigbo? Any of those guys could have easily rumbled through the Hawkeyes defense to pick up the measly one yard or more. Langsdorf often overlooks making the ground-game work. Maybe, he’s still stuck in the PAC-12 pass happy mentality.
The fade route to the corner of the end zone might have worked, if these guys were professionals. The degree of difficulty is beyond most college players’ skills. On top of not being able to execute plays, which obviously have been practiced fewer times than a run up the gut for short yardage. Skill players also lack experience. A smart coach goes with the higher percentage play. A Social Media blurb during the midseason slide said Riley’s staff might not be up to the job; It’s why Oregon State wallowed in mediocrity. Granted, a winning record is not do-or-die for the Huskers. Most likely, we’ll continue to see sellouts at Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium, especially in bone-chilling weather the likes of Saturday.
Not properly assessing the conditions set the stage for failure. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz knew he had to get to one man – demoralize him at every turn, take his confidence away, make him hesitate on run plays, and telegraph the safe passes. Meanwhile, Ferentz asked his running backs to carry the team, primarily Jordan Canzeri, who amassed 140 yards on 17 totes. His longest of the day was 68 yards. Against one of college’s fiercest front lines lead by Maliek Collins, how was this possible? Most observers noted there was nothing fancy about Iowa. All Nebraska had to do was stop the run and avoid turnovers.
Yet, in suffering this losing season, fans have come to realize that nothing comes easy for the Huskers, at least not in the first year of the Riley era.
As this year draws to a close, let’s hope for a bowl victory, and next year’s success.