|All Points West: Keeping Big Red humming|
|October 14, 2016 Frank Marquez|
What happens during a bye week?
Itís time to heal and to make plans for resuming the hard-knock journey. For Nebraska, it couldnít have come at a better time. Thank you, schedulers. Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, with his back injury, tops the list of walking wounded. Heíll likely sit out against Indiana, and some sources reported he may be out against Purdue the following week in Lincoln, too.
At stake next week versus the Hoosiers, Nebraska puts its Associated Press No. 10 ranking on the line; itís the first time Nebraska has cracked the top 10 since 2011, and the first time the Big Ten has had four teams in the top 10 since 1960. Back then it was No. 3 Iowa, No. 4 Illinois, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 7 Purdue. In Week 6 this season, Ohio State sits at No. 2, Michigan at No. 4, and Wisconsin at No. 8. The sword sharpening should make for an intriguing November.
QB Tommy Armstrong is ready after treatment, wearing a boot in the off week. Tight end Cethan Carter is doubtful as well, and the status of I-Back Devine Ozigbo remains uncertain. Among other injured personnel, offensive guard Tanner Farmer was limited in practice, and David Knevel would return to right tackle if he felt ready. When the going gets tough Ö
So, whatís up with Indiana? They have had three wins including a 24-21 upset in OT over Michigan State at East Lansing, and granted, this is a Spartan team that hasnít been the same in recent years, and by all accounts, must miss the genius of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who moved on to become the head coach at Pitt in 2014. This season, Narduzzi has guided the Panthers to a 4-2 overall record, losing narrowly to Oklahoma State and North Carolina.
It might be easy enough to dismiss an overrated Sparty, but against Ohio State last Saturday, the Hoosiers were down 24-17 in the third quarter, and made a statement hanging tough with the Buckeyes who are otherwise body slamming their opponents, racking up an average of 55 points in their first four games. Indiana held them to 38 points, and managed to score through three quarters. Granted, Ohio Stateís only real test was in Week 3 against Oklahoma. The Sooners sit at No. 20 this week after getting some things figured out. Downing the Texas Longhorns in a 45-40 Red River shootout last week didnít hurt.
History says the Hoosiers wonít pull the upset in Bloomington, but consider a game played on their home turf. They are riding a high, gleefully thinking about gaining a 2-1 edge in Big Ten play. They also remain three wins away from becoming bowl eligible for a second season under Head Coach Kevin Wilson, who is in his fifth season. The difference may be adding defensive coordinator Tom Allen this year Ė keeping the opposing teamís offensive off the field is part of the trick. Thatís a tough call for Indiana against Nebraska, which brings the No. 23 rushing offense (234.2 yards), and a stifling Black Shirt defense, willing to give its offense every chance to score. Could Ohio State be overrated, and yet, untested? Stranger things Ö
If Nebraska can guard against turnovers and thoughtless penalties, it should be able to follow through with a workman-like game plan Ė something that allows Tommy time in the pocket to gain short yardage on good insurance passes, and a mix of jet sweeps and good old fashioned off tackle slants just to dust off the rust. Head Coach Mike Riley and Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf donít need to risk any more than that. But if the breakout runs and long passes come, so be it; no one needs to be a hero.
The Husker defense will be looking at key players on offense for the Hoosiers, QB Richard Lagow (93-of-155 for 1,460 yards and 11 TDs) and wide receivers Ricky Jones and Nick Westbrook; and on defense, working in a 4-2-5 scheme, one of those linebackers Marcus Oliver who is a master at forcing fumbles, a potential Achilles heel for the Huskers. The Hoosiers ground attack is led by running back Devine Redding, a clone of Tevin Coleman. The latter ran over 2,000 yards in the 2014 season. Beware, thereís no shortage of ground pounders behind Redding.
The Hoosiers run a spread based offense with Lagow, who takes most of his snaps from the shotgun, which creates, at times, wide running lanes. Nebraskaís Mark Banker may not need to make major adjustments, but must stick to staying aggressive against the run with well-timed blitzes.
This game will be won in the trenches where Nebraskaís down linemen need to shed blocks and do it quickly; speed and an aerial attack might keep the Huskers secondary guessing, but if Nebraska can win those one-on-one matchups, youíll see the well-conditioned Huskers prevail. The game will be played at Bloomingtonís Memorial Stadium, an arena only a little more than half the size of the Huskersí home at 52,929. Despite a smaller crowd, expect a rocking, roaring fan base, one that will be hard to quell if the Hoosiers strike first.
The Huskers also need to avoid coming in sleepy headed. The bye week might leave the Cornhuskers feeling a little lackadaisical, but once they settle into a rhythm in the first drive, and sticking to their bread and butter, things should go their way. If by chance they run into trouble (namely with early game turnovers), Armstrong has developed into enough of a leader to be the glue; heíll quash anything that might rattle the Huskers.
One thing the Huskers should not expect is a cakewalk. Like a team on any given Saturday, the great ones leave it all on the field. Look at the crushing defeats handed out by Alabama and Ohio State even when they have played a Bowling Green or Kent State, no offense to the Falcons or Gold Flashes. These great teams know what itís like to finish. Now that Nebraska has had a taste, and knows how to pile it on in the fourth quarter, odds makers agree. The Huskers are favored by 7 points, but Iíll give them 10, contingent on that killer instinct.