LINCOLN, Neb. — The Tommy Armstrong story at Nebraska has quite a few chapters.
But the longest, most extensive one, is about the comebacks he led while hurt. On Saturday, he added another paragraph to that chapter.
After limping off the field with an ankle injury in the third quarter, Armstrong returned in the fourth to lead Nebraska on a 13-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to put Nebraska over Minnesota 24-17.
Nebraska (8-2, 5-2) held onto the lead and its chances of making the Big Ten Title game in Indianapolis.
Here are five things we learned on Saturday.
Five things we learned
1. There’s something about the fourth quarter. Like it’s done so many times this season, Nebraska won this one in the fourth quarter.
The Huskers took over at the 9-yard line tied 17-17 with about 13 minutes left in the game. Armstrong engineered a 91-yard drive on one ankle that he ended with a 13-yard touchdown run for Nebraska to re-take the lead at 24-17.
The Nebraska defense hadn’t played well all night, but shut down Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner and the Gophers in the fourth quarter. Kieron Williams sealed the game with an interception.
Death, taxes and Nebraska pulling out a win in the final quarter: the story of the 2016 season.
2. Nebraska is terrible in the first half at home. For the third straight game in Memorial Stadium, the Huskers trailed at the half, this time 17-10. Nothing clicked in the first half for Nebraska.
The offense couldn’t convert on third downs (2 of 6 in the half) and the defense couldn’t get off the field on third downs (Minnesota was 5 of 10).
Even special teams was a disaster.
Freshman P Caleb Lightbourn had a minus-2-yard punt. De’Morney Pierson-El had a -1-yard punt return.
Nebraska’s Achilles heel was Leidner’s arm. He was 9-for-14 passing for 105 yards in the first half, most of which went to WR Drew Wolitarsky, who had five catches for 72 yards at halftime.
3. Tommy Armstrong is still a warrior. During a week full of rumors that Armstrong could be sidelined with a concussion, the senior quarterback did everything he normally does before a game.
He was the first person off the bus to walk into the stadium, he warmed up in sweats before throwing on pads, he led the team out of the Tunnel Walk and started at quarterback.
Armstrong, who was out this week going through concussion protocol, played well on Saturday.
In the first half he was 10-for-14 passing for 84 yards and one touchdown. He also ran six times for 45 yards.
On the first drive of the second half, he led the Huskers down the field and threw a screen pass to Terrell Newby that went for 31 yards and a touchdown, which tied the game. On that drive he was 5-for-5 passing for 64 yards.
Armstrong was taken out of the game for the second straight week, this time with a left ankle injury. He returned to lead Nebraska down the field for the game-winning drive.
He finished 19-for-27 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
4. The tailback run game is confusing. Senior RB Newby only had two carries in the first half for 10 total yards.
Nebraska’s run game hasn’t been that consistent, but offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said on Wednesday it wouldn’t be abandoned. In a way, he was right. Armstrong ran six times in the first half for 45 yards.
But the offense has a real identity crisis at tailback. It wants to run with a few tailbacks, but it doesn’t really know what works beside Newby. And even then, it doesn’t run that often with Newby unless it is late in the game. On Saturday, the Huskers ran a few jet sweeps that worked, but none that sprung for huge gains.
Regardless, Newby had a productive day with 16 carries for 85 yards.
5. Nebraska’s third-down defense is Not Good. It wasn’t as bad as last week. Nebraska at least forced a punt on Saturday, something it couldn’t do at Ohio State last week.
But Leidner picked apart the Huskers on third down all night.
He was 5-for-6 passing for 72 yards on third down alone. Minnesota converted 8 of 16 third downs.
Nebraska’s run defense was great. Its pass defense was alright. It’s third-down defense was questionable.
Nebraska did not let Ohio State beat it twice.
The 62-3 loss from a week ago did not affect this game. Minnesota was a good team on a four-game win streak. Nebraska couldn’t afford to play just OK because of last week’s embarrassment. And it didn’t.
Where, exactly, is Devine Ozigbo?
Once Nebraska’s leading rusher, the sophomore running back has disappeared from the offense. It’s most likely because of an ankle injury, but we haven’t heard anything about him in weeks. Is there something else going on?
Nebraska did not fumble, did not throw an interception and did not take away the ball on defense.
So good and bad. The offense was efficient, but a turnover on defense would have made this game much more comfortable for the Huskers.
What it means
Nebraska is still alive.
It is a long shot, but Nebraska could still make the Big Ten title game if Wisconsin loses.
The win proves the wheels have not fallen off the wagon completely. Nebraska is comfortably second in the Big Ten West and has a legitimate shot at a 10-win season, something that was unfathomable 12 months ago.