Column: What I learned by re-watching every 2015 Nebraska game
LINCOLN, Neb. — Washington, D.C. is a really expensive city. And when you’re only 23 years old and just out of college and live in a studio apartment that costs a semester of in-state tuition a month, watching football games on YouTube is a good — and cheap — way to pass the time.
A few weeks after I got this position covering Nebraska for Landof10, I started re-watching the 2015 Nebraska season to prep work so I could hit the ground running on Day 1. But as I drank my cheap instant coffee and watched from the comfort of my air mattress, I noticed a few things about the 2015 Huskers as I watched the season unfold.
A few issues were simple. Others were more over-arching. With a few weeks still to go before the 2016 season starts in earnest, it’s a good time to rehash some of those 2015 issues, especially since some of them might still be topical in 2016.
Here are some thoughts:
With Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska can beat just about anybody
I really don’t know if you could have crafted a better quarterback for Bo Pelini’s offense than Tommy Armstrong.
He’s Taylor Martinez with an attitude, a gunslinger who isn’t afraid to throw into triple coverage and can take off running for 20 yards if he sees a hole. He’s intense, passionate and confident.
And it’s pretty clear now that Mike Riley isn’t used to Tommy Armstrong-style quarterbacks. Riley’s QB style is very controlled. He likes prepared. He likes methodical. The anti-Martinez, in other words.
So now Tommy is stuck, in a way, between who he was recruited to be and who his current coach wants him to be, which I think is a pretty difficult thing to do.
But what can be said about Tommy is no matter what, no matter who is coach is or what is asked of him, Nebraska has a chance to win just about any game when Armstrong is at quarterback.
The Miami game last year showed me that. Nebraska had no business being in that game at the end. Miami led 20-3 at half, and 33-10 in the fourth quarter.
But Armstrong engineered three touchdown drives in the final few minutes and converted on a 2-point conversion to take the game into overtime.
The comeback came on the road, and against a rival. It reminded me of the Michigan State loss in 2014, when Nebraska nearly came back from almost 20 down in the fourth quarter. Armstrong refused to quit in East Lansing, and in Miami. Losing 36-33 in overtime put a damper on the great comeback.
I’m not sure there’s a lead too big to put Nebraska away if Armstrong is still on the field. He always, at the very least, gives Nebraska a chance.
I have no idea how Nebraska lost to Northwestern. Or Wisconsin. Or Illinois.
None. The games are black holes. I’m not being facetious. I 100 percent, wholeheartedly, can’t wrap my head around how Nebraska lost the games with Northwestern, Wisconsin or Illinois.
The season-opening loss to BYU you can chalk up to dumb luck. Hail Mary’s happen once in a blue moon, but they do happen.
But not being able to close out a game with the lead super-late in the fourth quarter is inconceivable to me, especially when it happens three times in four games.
Here were the three situations:
- Nebraska’s ball. 2nd-and-10 from the Illinois 30-yard-line, up 13-10 with 1:49 left. Illinois has zero timeouts left.
- Nebraska’s ball. 1st-and-10 from the Nebraska 21-yard-line, up 21-20 with 1:21 left. Wisconsin just missed a 39-yard field goal to take the lead.
- Northwestern’s ball. 3rd-and-3 from the Northwestern 21, Nebraska up 28-27 with 3:14 left in the game.
In order for Nebraska to win all three of those games, they needed to get two combined first downs and one defensive stop.
For zero of those things to happen, and all within the same month, is insane to me. That’s why the 6-7 record will always have a tiny astrisk over it for me. Yes, they lost seven games, but three of the didn’t make sense to me.
Side note: Think about how much different the perception of Nebraska football would be if those three games turn out Nebraska’s way.
Funny enough, the 9-win seasons streak that got Bo Pelini fired would still be alive.
The loss to Purdue was beyond ugly
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team with so little talent play as well as Purdue did that day when it beat Nebraska 55-45 on Oct. 31. Or at least look like it was playing well.
The Pelini blowouts at Wisconsin or in the Big Ten Championship game were bad, but that’s because there was a lot riding on it. This game had essentially nothing riding on it, and yet, pulverized Husker Nation afterward.
Coming into the Nebraska game, Purdue was 1-6. They hadn’t scored more than 31 points all season. They gave up an average of 32 points per game. The Boilermakers were a joke.
And not only did Purdue win, they dominated. A program that struggled for nearly two years to beat another FBS school ran for 100 more yards and threw four fewer interceptions than a team that played in the Big Ten Championship game in 2012.
It was baffling.
The Brandon Reilly touchdown shouldn’t have counted
I’m really sorry, but it shouldn’t have. Brandon Reilly’s controversial score against Michigan State just shouldn’t have counted.
I want to be with you. I really do, for the sheer fact that it would be a great story. But I’ve watched it a hundred times over, and I just don’t see how the catch could have been legal.
Here’s one more look, in case it’s been awhile. Remember that the rule states a player may not be the first to touch the ball after going out of bounds, unless that player is forced out.
It’s iffy, but it isn’t a touchdown.
Clearly, it doesn’t matter now. It counted and was still a season-defining win. Michigan State still won the Big Ten and made the College Football Playoff.
And who is to say Nebraska wouldn’t have scored that possession anyway. They were on the Michigan State 30 yard-line and had plenty of time left and all the momentum in the world.
But Reilly’s touchdown shouldn’t have counted.
The Iowa game was Nebraska’s to lose
I didn’t put this game in the “Doesn’t Make Sense” category because Iowa was the No. 4 team in the country on Nov. 27.
But in so many ways, Nebraska had Iowa beat.
Nebraska won time of possession, threw for 200 more yards and caught 16 more balls. The Huskers converted 12 more first downs, punted four less times, held Iowa to zero third-down conversions and controlled the ball for 13 more minutes.
And still lost.
I’m not here to diagnose why, not nine months later. But I am here to say that the upset could have — and probably should have — happened. The 28-20 loss in Lincoln could have been avoided.
So many things about the 2015 season didn’t make sense. The losses, some of the wins. It was a season riddled in contradiction and confusion.
So 2016 can’t possibly be more ridiculous and unpredictable. Then again, it’s Nebraska, so there’s always a chance.
But I wouldn’t put my money on it.
Chris Heady is a staff writer at Landof10 and covers Nebraska football and recruiting. He takes movie and story suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @heady_chris.