On Saturday afternoon, BYU will face one of the tougher opening week opponents in recent memory. We caught up with the writers of CornNation.com to give us some insight on Mike Riley, Tommy Armstrong Jr and the blackshirt defense.
Vanquish the Foe: It's pretty obvious that Mike Riley is nothing like his predecessor Bo Pelini in terms of personality. In terms of X's and O's what changes had Riley brought to the program?
Andy: Hey, that's what we're waiting to see. Since he has been saddled with a QB who'd be a disaster in straight dropback passing offense (and a depth chart that offers nothing close to better), we've been told that he's looking to mix in some Oregon type zone read stuff that will allow Armstrong to use his feet a little.
Jon: I don't think anybody knows what to expect out of this year's offense. I don't think Riley is foolish enough to try to run a pro-set offense with the current personnel he has, so we should see Tommy Armstrong running zone reads and options along with some elements of what Riley wants to do. One thing I expect to see: a good old-fashioned quarterback draw.
Ranchbabe: We have heard a rumor that tight ends are allowed to catch passes. Speaking of passes, we are also told that Riley likes quarterbacks that throw them in the general vicinity of the receivers' hands. I mean, c'mon. This is D1 football. If you can't scoop em up off your shoe tops, play soccer.
Actually, I am a bit excited to see what Tommy Armstrong (TA2) can do with honest-to-goodness quarterback coaching. As mentioned above, Riley has also said he will not ignore Tommy's skillset. When TA2 squares up and gets a head of steam on a zone read, some poor fool of a strong safety or Will LB is getting trucked. Good times.
On defense, we are hoping the new X's and O's mean that [insert name of random Wisconsin running back] does not average double digit yards per carry.
Husker Mike: That's what we want to see. Nebraska was burned by a previous head coach who claimed his offense would adapt to the talent he inherited, then proceeded to try and jam his square peg into a round hole anyway. Mike Riley doesn't appear to be anywhere that stupid, but some of us are a little apprehensive, just the same. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Joe Canale: Riley has completely turned the program around 180 degrees. He has replaced ALL of the X's with O's and all of the O's with X's.
Vanquish the Foe: With the departure of All-Word running back Ameer Abdullah to the NFL, who looks to fill the role as the key offensive playmaker for the Huskers?
Andy: Fortunately for you, that guy is out 6-8 weeks. Demornay Pierson-el was likely going to fill the role of gamebreaker with some thinking he could be worth 6-10 points/game. Now....sigh. I'm gonna start drinking now. Since you're from BYU, can I have yours?
Ranchbabe: I won't repeat Andy, but DPE was also my choice. Alas. We are leaning on a stable of pretty good running backs but have no indications of anything beyond that for now. We Have Been Told Tight Ends Can Catch Passes but only have decent or unproven commodities there. Nevermind. Nebraska is pretty solid at the y and z receiver but they are not typically your big play guys (especially with DPE out). TA2 throws a surprisingly effective deep ball and if we get someone (from our wounded wideout corps) to step up and be the "X" factor (Oh, I crack myself up) we could see some nice plays. Brandon Reilly is a speedster and could fill the Kenny Bell role of stretching the defense. He is also hurt a lot. Ok, that leaves the O-line or quarterback. Tommy has shown flashes of putting this team on his back and willing them forward. The O-line should be improved (cross our fingers), but I'll go with Tommy. When you don't really know the answer, make up an analysis and say "it all revolves around quarterback play". After all, it all revolves around quarterback play.
Husker Mike: Good question. Our most explosive receiver is out with a broken foot. He'll be replaced by a couple of speedy receivers in Alonzo Moore and Jamal Turner who've been rather inconsistent.
Joe Canale: This will sound like a joke given my previous answer, but I truly think that Mike Riley is the playmaker this season. He's an offensive coach and how well the Huskers take to his offense will determine the success of the season.
Jon: The offensive playmaker will be Tommy Armstrong as he blossoms under Riley's offense, modified to fit his dual-threat profile. No one sees this coming, then when they do see it, they still refuse to believe. Armstrong becomes a Heisman candidate in week four.
Vanquish the Foe: Nebraska's "blackshirt defense" didn't quite live up to their moniker last year as they yielded 177 rushing yards per game. Who in the Nebraska front seven will play a key role in slowing BYU's rushing attack?
Andy: Maliek Collins will become familiar to you quickly. And if Mike Rose-Ivey has fully recovered from knee surgery, you'll find him on your radar as well.
Ranchbabe: Andy beat me to it again. He is right, but I will draw your attention to Collins' and Rose-Ivey's counterparts. Vincent Valentine (the other DT) is a monster of a human being and is exceptional at occupying space. He might not be able to move like MC, but if you follow NFL football, think "Pot Roast". I give you VV. Also, middle linebacker Josh Banderas is a legacy talent at Nebraska (his dad played tight end in the late 80's). He has had a mixed career up until now, but I am a bit more optimistic than most at his potential. I attribute a good chunk of his struggles to the previous administration. I guess we'll know soon.
Also - do not take your eyes off Nate Gerry. While a safety, and not technically part of the front seven, he was used as a LB his freshman year for a reason (mostly because of depth, but also because he likes to tackle).
Husker Mike: I suspect that Michael Rose-Ivey is going to wind up being the unnamed defensive starter who is suspended this week. That's going to put a lot of pressure on the line to hold up and make plays. Keep an eye on Jack Gangwish, a former walk-on who emerged out of nowhere last season as a key backup.
Joe Canale: Don't try to run up the middle. Valentine and Collins. Also wouldn't suggest throwing from the middle. Avoid the middle.
Vanquish the Foe: Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr enters his junior year as the incumbent starter. What area of his game needs the most improvement?
Andy: The same ones that have needed improvement since he took his first snap - accuracy, decision-making, an inability to check down to 2nd & 3rd receivers, firing the ball into traffic instead of throwing it away when pressured. Watch the Holiday Bowl again - if USC's DB's and LB's hadn't reacted like amputees on balls thrown at their chest, they would have had 6 picks. I promised I wouldn't talk about drinking constantly around you guys, but when I think of Tommyballs floating to safeties with no receiver in the picture, I think of little else.
Jon: The short passing game. Armstrong has a strong arm (not even a PUN!) and throws a pretty decent deep ball, but his short passing game... well, there hasn't been much touch. He'll bullet a pass at a guy five yards away and nearly tear his arms off.
Ranchbabe: Touch, accuracy...all of the above. One very interesting comment that I gleaned from some practice reports is that he is going to try better to find the outlet when everything goes to heck with pass protection (which has been a disturbingly frequent occurrence in his tenure despite having around 8 offensive line coaches - at one time). The current #1 on the RB depth chart is Terrell Newby and he has some wiggle and speed (assuming Tommy throws it to his zip code and TN holds onto the ball--both reasonably big assumptions). If our QB-whisperers (OC Danny Langsdorf and HC Mike Riley) have worked their magic - this could be a play to watch.
Joe Canale: Not throwing every ball at maximum velocity.
Vanquish the Foe: BYU's offense will feature two 6'6'' wide receivers in Mitch Matthews and Nick Kurtz. Is the Nebraska defense equipped to defend these sizeable wideouts?
Andy: Yes. We have quietly recruited Shawn Bradley's nephew and Paul Mokeski's half-brother's son to shut that crap down cold. Okay, I made that up, but still - yes.
Jon: The defensive secondary is pretty good, easily the strength of the defense (Daniel Davie, Byerson Cockrell, Nate Gerry, and Jonathan Rose). The defensive line is pretty good (Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine) and it will be interesting to see if the front four can bring pressure without the need for blitzing.
Ranchbabe: It sounds like new DC Mark Banker's defense is predicated upon making sure the line and linebackers have redundancy at the expense of putting the secondary out there on islands and exposing them. It will be interesting to see this matchup because BYU certainly has the potential to take advantage of this scheme. The reports from Husker practices indicate this Husker secondary might be better than the sum of its parts. I am sure BYU will probably get theirs (big plays in the passing game) but I also suspect Big Ten fans will watch and be grateful that the B1G does not have many top-flight passing QBs. I am really looking forward to watching this secondary.
Joe Canale: I believe the Huskers defenders have been practicing jumping, so I have a good feeling about it.
Jon: Not really, but remember going over to your girlfriend's house when you were younger, and she had that ornery little craphead of a brother who because of his size managed to constantly punch you in the crotch? Well, I do.
Vanquish the Foe: What are the expectations for Mike Riley in his first season in Lincoln?
Andy: Trying to figure out what to do with all the roses the local press throws his way for coaching such a wonderful 8-5 record out of a team with a 10-3 schedule dropped in their lap. If Riley gets off to a rough first couple years, the dynamic will be interesting, because the press will give him an incredibly long leash, but the fans don't care how nice the coach is. (See Osborne, Tom pre-1993)
Ranchbabe: Have you ever interviewed Nebraska fans before. No? OK. Prepare yourselves. Expectations are to win. A lot. Hardware-in-the-trophy-case a lot. In the absence of hardware, winning needs to be thorough and decisive - accompanied by a lack of embarrassing losses. If a game is lost, the winning team needs to have a fear of ever playing the Huskers ever again. They won, but they hurt. Badly. And never want to do this again. It wasn't worth it. Nebraska should not need Ameer-icles or allow 200 yards rushing (Zach Zenner, SDSU, 2014) to FCS players. Bo Pelini was not fired because he was a jerk (although that made it easier). He was fired because embarrassments were happening and he did not appear to have a plan to reverse that. Riley might not be expected to put hardware in the case in Year 1, but Year 3.....
Joe Canale: 9-4. It's all we've ever wanted from our coaches, right?
Jon: I do not become an alcoholic. Nebraska wins the Big Ten West, then loses to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, then beats, uh, oh, a SEC team, say, Georgia, in the best bowl either can get into. Maliek Collins wins the Outland Trophy.
Vanquish the Foe: How do you see the game playing out?
Andy: Assuming most of your suspended players matter and most of ours don't, I say Tommy overcomes a four interception performance to lead a 4th quarter comeback after a vomit-inducing 1st half to take advantage of a BYU team that feels the lack of depth after Taysom Hill stakes them to an early lead while reminding everyone why he was darkhorse Heisman candidate before his injury. Also, Mikael Wilbon comes of the bench in the 4th quarter to break a couple of long runs. NU 40 BYU 31
Ranchbabe: This is a tough one. The big-bodied wideouts of BYU will test Nebraska's secondary. The talents of Taysom Hill are also going to stress any defense - even one with a DL as talented as Nebraska. The suspensions (on both sides) will probably play a major role - we have some good ideas, but not the whole picture there. I think BYU comes out firing and jumps out to an early lead. Nebraska's depth and the talents of their new strength and conditioning coach (who can totally beat up your S&C coach) make a big difference. The home crowd gets loud and Drew Brown's late 4th quarter field goal wins the game 34-31 Huskers. BYU goes down as one of the best opening game opponents in Husker history. Nebraska will know a lot more about their starting LB's and DE's after this game (for better or worse).
Joe Canale: I also think the suspensions will be important. I just hope Bronco doesn't do the lame ½ game suspension thing that the Memphis coach did with some of his players. It's so impossible to predict what will go on in this game. There are soooooooo many questions for both teams. Ultimately I will guess that if Hill has over 100 yards rushing then BYU wins, if he doesn't, Nebraska wins.
Jon: I like Andy's prediction. It's about what I expect.
Thanks again to the good people of CornNation.com for the help with this article.