LINCOLN, Neb. — If Oregon was Nebraska’s first test, Indiana is its first midterm.
The Hoosiers are 3-2 but just gave No. 2 Ohio State a good scare through three quarters and have an offense that could put up better numbers than the Ducks did in September.
Here are five key things to look for this week entering the road game in Bloomington, Ind.
How serious will Husker Nation take Indiana?
Much of this week likely will be spent trying to convince Nebraska fans that their No. 10 Huskers actually are going to have a difficult time with Indiana.
A few weeks ago, we talked about how the Oregon game was about branding. And in a way, Nebraska’s brand is somewhat polished. Indiana, on the other hand, means pretty much nothing in Nebraska. Probably because this is the first time the two teams have met since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011.
But Nebraska, even as the No. 10 team in the country, is only favored by four points over Indiana. And the Hoosiers lead the league in passing offense and score nearly as many points as the Huskers.
So if this is a tie game at half, or the Hoosiers lead late in the fourth quarter, how forgiving will Huskers fans be?
Is Tommy Armstrong going to be healthy?
Nebraska may have seriously dodged a bullet.
As both coach Mike Riley and senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong said on Monday, had Nebraska been playing Indiana on Oct. 8 instead of Oct. 15, senior QB Ryker Fyfe would have been the starter. Armstrong seemed to move fine on Monday, but any lingering impact of his injury won’t be really seen until the Indiana game.
Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf love running Armstrong and love when he runs on his own. With an ankle injury, there might be a higher volume of throws for Armstrong, which is tricky because that generally means more interceptions.
If Armstrong can take off for even six or seven designed runs to keep Indiana on its heels, that would do so much good for the Huskers offense. If not, it could get complicated.
With no Devine Ozigbo, who takes the carries?
Senior running back Terrell Newby has been the starting running back all season, but sophomore running back Devine Ozigbo actually leads the team in carries, and fans have been calling for him to get even more carries.
But with Ozigbo hurt, who takes the load off Newby?
Sophomore Mikale Wilbon and freshman Tre Bryant will likely get more carries this week, but both have fumbled this season in the red zone, and there’s concern their turnover issues could continue. There might be more end-around runs from receivers this week, too, if Nebraska doesn’t feel comfortable running Armstrong.
That Huskers secondary better be ready
More than any week so far this season, “Lockdown U” will be tested.
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow leads the conference in passing yards this season with 1,460 yards, including 11 touchdowns. He averages nearly 300 yards a game and has a 60-percent completion percentage.
Indiana wide receiver Nick Westbrook is his top target, with 20 catches for 437 yards and four touchdowns. He averages 21.9 yards per catch. His other top target, Ricky Jones, has 18 catches for 390 yards and averages 21.7 yards per catch.
This air attack is for real.
Can special teams swing the momentum on the road
The hit-and-miss special teams of Nebraska will need to hit this weekend.
De’Mornay Pierson El, who averages 14 yards per return and has the second longest return of the season in the Big Ten so far at 45 yards, will need to try and create space and shorten the field for the offense.
Punter Caleb Lightbourn had trouble pinning Illinois deep in their own territory the last time out. That will need to change against this high-powered Indiana attack.