LINCOLN, Neb. – Welcome to the trickiest week of Nebraska’s schedule.
One week before a revenge game against Purdue at home, two weeks before what looks like the Big Ten West championship battle against Wisconsin and coming off a bye week, the Huskers travel to Indiana this weekend and face a team thirsty for a signature win. The Hoosiers (3-2) boast the best passing game in the Big Ten.
Nebraska (5-0, 2-0 in the Big Ten) is turning heads slowly around the country, but not everyone is convinced the Huskers are for real. A win doesn’t get them any closer to a Big Ten West title, and wouldn’t be a signature win on the season.
Can Nebraska show up on the road and beat a pesky Indiana team? Here’s how they match up.
When Nebraska has the ball
This will all depend on the health of a few players.
We’re told senior QB Tommy Armstrong is recovered and good to go on Saturday after a bum ankle sidelined him for a few days during the bye week. But whether offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and coach Mike Riley will give Armstrong free reign to run is not known.
Last week against Indiana, Ohio State ran the zone-read time and time again, and Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett ran for 137 yards.
Common sense says Langsdorf runs Armstrong like crazy, but whether Armstrong can physically is the question.
In five games, Indiana has only kept one team, Florida International, below 20 points. Despite being labeled an “improved” defense from last year, the Hoosiers still rank near the bottom of most defensive categories in the Big Ten. Nebraska is second in the Big Ten in total offense. If sophomore Devine Ozigbo and Armstrong are at full speed, the Huskers offense shouldn’t have many problems scoring.
This will likely be a game with a lot of yards and a lot of points, which plays into Nebraska’s favor, because the Huskers offense really gets rolling in the fourth quarter.
When Indiana has the ball
Indiana is similar to Oregon in a lot of ways, but maybe most notably by how many weapons it has at its disposal.
QB Richard Lagow leads the conference in passing yards with 1,460, has 11 touchdowns and spreads the ball among three quick receivers, Nick Westbrook, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige. Westbrook and Jones are second and fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game.
Behind the Hoosiers ground attack is Devine Redding, who is third in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, with a 98.2-yard average.
This Indiana offense is for real, and though the Nebraska defense is fourth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense, it will be tested every which way. The defensive line will have to put pressure on Lagow, and the linebackers will need to be disciplined in coverage, neither of which has happened a lot this season.
Indiana and Nebraska are nearly identical.
Both have struggling punters and are in the top half of punt return average in the conference. This game could come down to a defense getting a stop on third down, and a punt return changing the game. That’s how close this game could end up.
The edge goes to Nebraska for one reason: Drew Brown. The junior kicker hasn’t had too many kicks this season, but this could be a game where field goals are the difference. Brown is a crazy accurate kicker who hasn’t really made his mark on a game yet. This could be the one.
Riley and Langsdorf have been very deliberate in their game plans this season.
What will be intriguing about this game is how they use Armstrong, and how they call the first series that Nebraska has the ball. There haven’t been too many trick plays or out-of-the-ordinary calls. On the road, against a tough Indiana team, it’ll be interesting to see if Langsdorf opens the playbook at all considering his starting quarterback and running back are dinged up, and his starting tight end and best wide receiver won’t be playing.
Kevin Wilson has done a masterful job making Indiana into a legitimate team with a great offense, but the Huskers get the edge for a simple reason: they’ve coached against high-tempo teams before. One in particular, Oregon, they beat earlier this year.
This is an incredibly tricky game for Nebraska, which opened as 8-point favorites in Las Vegas, but that’s shifted all the way to just three.
I think it ends up being that close.
If the Huskers defense can at least slow down Redding and get pressure on Lagow, it should be able to do what it did to Oregon, and keep the Hoosiers under 35.
If Armstrong is healthy, can find a few receivers deep and Ozigbo is able to have his way up front a few times, Nebraska should have no problem scoring more than 35.
Chris Heady’s prediction: Nebraska 38, Indiana 35