Stryker: Armstrong helps Huskers avoid drama, beat Northwestern

Category: Football

Stryker: Armstrong helps Huskers avoid drama, beat Northwestern

‘Steady as she goes’ gets it done for Riley and the Big Red

There was no drama. There was no last-minute comeback, no Hail Mary, no big-time controversy. And that was just fine, thank you.

A Steady Eddie Big Ten road win is just fine. Especially when it comes against a team that has given the Huskers big problems over the past five years by playing Steady Eddie football and forcing them into maddening mistakes.

There were a lot of encouraging signs in Nebraska’s 24-13 win, the Huskers’ fourth win over Northwestern in six seasons. The Cornhuskers chewed up the tall grass with 300-plus rushing yards and committed only four penalties. The Blackshirts held Northwestern’s offense in check and Nebraska fans took over Ryan Field, creating almost a home-game atmosphere.

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Maybe the biggest feat was simply avoiding major trouble. Nebraska moved the ball consistently and got stops when it needed them. Losing offensive guard Tanner Farmer to what appeared to be an ankle injury was the only bad news on a night when the Big Red won for the seventh time in their last eight outings.

It was satisfying to see the Huskers accomplish what they did despite encountering the type of bad breaks that well may have done in the Huskers of a year ago. This may not be a mentally tough team yet, but at least it’s not a fragile team. Nebraska is not really an impressive team yet, but at least it appears to be developing consistency. That is mainly the result of Mike Riley and his staff, whose even-keeled approach helped the Huskers overcome two frustrating goal-line fumbles that resulted in two touchbacks.

The Huskers lost 14 much-needed points, but they didn’t lose their composure. There was really no time for that sort of thing, because the way Wisconsin handled Michigan State on the road made it evident that Nebraska has no room for error in the West Division race. It was also important for a coaching staff that has not exactly developed a track record of consistently beating teams that it should beat.

Returning to his home state, Jordan Westerkamp caught only one pass in front of well over 100 personal guests, but he scored a touchdown on a perfectly executed third-quarter reverse. Riley and his staff even managed to get the ball into Mikale Wilbon’s hands seven times, and the Chicago native responded with his best game so far as a Husker, running for 55 yards.

Tommy Armstrong misfired on some first-half passes, and he narrowly avoided a pick-six, but he gained momentum and kept his focus on a night when the track was heavy and slow and points were hard to come by. The game’s most important moment was a 59-yard pass to Alonzo Moore late in the first half. It was a perfect throw from Armstrong, who improves each week at letting misfortune roll off his back.The senior quarterback ran like crazy, threw a touchdown pass to his tight end and generally made sure his team kept its equilibrium. Nebraska needs a bunch more games like that from Armstrong.

His running can disrupt any opponent, and on this night it was absolutely vital. Riley apparently has given Danny Langsdorf the liberty of calling Armstrong’s number whenever needed, and Langsdorf dialed him up early and often. Armstrong ran 13 times for 132 yards, which set him up for success throwing the ball. Armstrong was almost as effective through the air, hitting 18 of 29 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown.

The Husker offensive line took a step forward. It’s not easy to look good at Northwestern, especially when you have to go up against an All-America-caliber linebacker in Anthony Walker Jr., but they generated enough push to make the running game effective. That wouldn’t have happened without Armstrong’s speed and elusiveness, but Terrell Newby (69 rushing yards) and Wilbon had their best nights of the season, and the o-line deserves a share of the credit for that.

“We lost 14 points out there,” Riley said on his postgame radio show. “That’s hard to overcome, but we did.”

The Huskers are undefeated, having made it through the first significant test of their season. They are building momentum — an almost nonexistent commodity last season — and it’s hard to see them having too much trouble with Illinois next week. There’s no need for any drama anytime soon.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. Stryker is a freelance writer, favoring topics related to Nebraska history or Christianity. You can buy his recent book at this link.