Players and coaches come and go every year in the Big Ten, but oftentimes trends continue on offense even with the new faces. This week at Land of 10, we are going to take a look at every offense in the league and compare it to a year ago, making a determination if they should be better or worse in 2016. Today we’ll take a look at the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The No. 2 total offense in the Big Ten returns a vast majority of their weapons, highlighted by senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who is on the cusp of breaking a multitude of Husker passing records.
A lot of the success of Nebraska’s season will ride on Armstrong’s decision-making, how the Huskers deal with a young offensive line and how much coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf can implement their pro-style offense in year two.
Key players lost: FB Andy Janovich, IB Imani Cross, OG Zach Sterup
Key returning players: IB Terrell Newby, RB Devine Ozigbo
The skinny: Over and over again, Nebraska has said in the offseason they want to run the ball more this fall. Despite having a gunslinger at quarterback and a prolific receiving corps, Riley wants the Huskers to primarily be a ground-and-pound offense.
They lose 28 percent of their running from last year with the graduation of Imani Cross and Andy Janovich, but return senior Terrell Newby and up-and-coming back Devine Ozigbo. It will be crucial for those two backs to make up for Janovich and Cross’ absence, and rush for more than 1500 yards between the two of them.
Key players lost: OT Alex Lewis, C Ryne Reeves, OG Chongo Kodolo
Key returning players: QB Tommy Armstrong, WR Jordan Westerkamp, WR Alonzo Moore
The skinny: Tommy Armstrong is 567 yards away from breaking Taylor Martinez’s record for total passing yards in school history. That record probably will be shattered early in September.
With six legitimate options weapons at receiver and Cethen Carter at tight end, Armstrong has all the potential in the world to be an All-Big Ten quarterback. It will come down to how well his young offensive line will be able to protect him, and whether or not Armstrong can cut down the interceptions that has plagued his whole career.
Armstrong with time is deadly, but Armstrong with no time throws picks. The play of the offensive line will be crucial.
One Stat That Must Improve
Turnover margin is the stat that has haunted Nebraska for years.
Last year was the seventh straight season that Nebraska has been in the negative portion of the turnover margin. At some point, the Huskers need to turn that around.
It’s what you get with quarterbacks like Martinez and Armstrong, who aren’t afraid of throwing into double or triple coverage. In 2015, Nebraska ranked 117th in the NCAA in turnover margin, with minus-12.
Maybe a run-heavy offense will change that, and a veteran QB in Armstrong will also help, but taking care of the ball could be the different between seven wins and 10 wins for Nebraska this season.
Nebraska returns zero linemen from last year. They do return senior Dylan Utter, but he is moving over the center, so no position will have a starter from last year. That’s always a red flag, at every level of football.
The young group will likely be comprised of sophomores and juniors. In order for the Nebraska run game to succeed, and to give Armstrong enough time in the pocket, the offensive line needs to meld early on in the season.
Better or worse in 2016? Better
BETTER: It’s hard to say that the No. 2-ranked offense in the Big Ten will be better in 2016 than it was last year, but I think this offense will be much more fine-tuned than a year ago.
The Riley offense is starting to take shape after a year of transition. Armstrong is in phenomenal shape and the running backs are in excellent position to each run for more than 750 yards. The receiving corps is one of the best Nebraska has ever seen and Nebraska isn’t going from one system to the next.
I don’t think the 446-yard average for total offense will go up much, but I do think the way Nebraska will get their yards will be more crisp and more efficient.