Tomorrow's game between the Spartans and Cornhuskers is huge, so I thought we'd do something a bit different for today's preview. Instead of just having one writer answer questions for us, Corn Nation was nice enough to have Aaron Musfeldt, Andy Ketterson, Cheeseandcorn, Ranchbabe, and Cobby answer questions. The first part of the preview deals with Nebraska's offense, more specifically RB Ameer Abdullah and QB Tommy Armstrong.
The second part, up this afternoon, will be about players on Nebraska's defense not named Randy Gregory, what happened against McNeese State, keys to the game, and predictions.
1. Ameer Abdullah was great last year, and he's even better this year. Has anything changed about him from last season? Or is his success so far more a result of the players around him?
Cobby: Last year? It was sure great watching Michigan get their butts handed to them time and time again. It’s even better this year. I don’t think anything has changed about that from last season except that they’ll have a higher number in the "L" by the end year. I don’t think it has anything to do with the players around that program. But the guy at the helm might be a bit responsible.
Aaron: Silly Cobby. Abdullah has changed from this year to last year. He always had that great speed right off the snap that could make people miss, but he had a tendency to get caught from behind in the open field and to put the ball on the ground every now and then. Right now, when our offense goes out onto the field, they just push everyone out of the way and Ameer zips through for big gains. I have been skeptical all year of our line play, but this weekend should give us a good idea whether they are the real deal or a product of cupcakes.
Andy: A bit of both. Thus far, the line has been pushing people around and opening bigger holes than he saw last year. That it continued against the Hurricanes was a good thing. Will it continue against MSU? We’ll see.
That being said, Ameer is faster, stronger, shiftier, much harder to tackle and holding onto the ball finally. He’s also showing a durability that’s hard to believe. Before, we just thought he was really good. This year he’s looking sort of legendary. Yeah, I know: Hetero Man Crush Alert!
Cheeseandcorn: Abdullah’s been a hair faster, stronger, slippier this year, but I think the biggest difference is the offensive line, which is much improved so far this year. The level of competition hasn’t been high (with Miami the notable exception), but he’s running through larger holes this year and getting stuffed in the backfield less often. His holes aren’t often of the drive-a-truck-through-them size, but they’re enough for him to dart through for 7 or 8.
Ranchbabe: I don’t doubt that he is stronger or faster (he’s been named "lifter of the year two years in a row). Ameer is relentless in his film study. He has also been getting advice from an ex-Husker running back who put together a nice NFL career (Ahman Green). However, I think the biggest reason he has upped his game is because this is now "his" team. Last year, we were supposed to be led by a four-year QB starter. When said starter (and large chunks of the starting offense) went down, Ameer was quietly voted as a replacement captain and began to take hold of the team. This year, there was no question. He is THE man. Some people embrace that type of responsibility and some wilt. Ameer chose Door #1.
2. With Abdullah's success, Tommy Anderson has been good enough at QB to this point, ranking fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. What does he do well, and what will he need to improve upon for Nebraska to pull the upset?
Cobby: Even though he was married to Pamela Anderson, I think his name was actually Tommy Lee. Yea, he did his reality show bit as a "student" at Nebraska in 2004 (google it), but he was never really great enough to play QB for us. I think your stats are wrong though. A rock star would never rank fourth in efficiency at a college. I’m sure he got any chick he wanted. You know that site www.Big10Tens.com? Those are the chicks he got. What does Tommy do well besides score? I hear he’s a good drummer.
Aaron: Tommy Armstrong has played alright this season. The mistakes have been cut down, but that’s also in part from the RB’s getting more touches, i.e. he has less opportunities of making mistakes. He’s a good runner, but he hasn’t quite mastered the whole passing thing yet. Nebraska’s coaches still use the strategy of recruiting a QB that can run that hopefully you (or some hotshot at a summer camp) can teach to throw. I’m actually shocked that he ranks fourth in passing efficiency. His completion % has to be about 50%. He typically connects with one of his receivers on a long ball each game, but he has a lot of trouble hitting the numbers on a 5 yard pass play. When he throws that ball, he launches it and he needs to learn to put a little more touch on his passes.
Andy: Please. It’s Tommy Washington.
He runs the zone read much better this year and throws a nice deep ball - but not one of "the best in the nation" as Chuck Long claimed in Gary Danielson-esque fashion last Saturday. Jesus. He is gaining some nice yards on his keeps when teams over-pursue Ameer.
He needs to improve on medium and deep route accuracy and he also has a penchant for brutal turnovers. If he can limit that, we’re in good shape, but that’s not a great quality to have against Sparty.
Cheeseandcorn: Armstrong is a mysteriously good runner - he’s not particularly fast, shifty, or bulldozing, but he picks his spots extremely well in the zone read and usually manages to get surprisingly far downfield before he’s brought down. As for the passing, he has a bizarre mix of completely botched basic throws and a handful of perfectly executed difficult throws each game. Avoiding turnovers is kind of a given for what he needs to do well on Saturday, but I think that even more so, Nebraska’s success will hinge on whether he can throw the 7-to-15-yard passes with accuracy. If he can’t do that, they’ll be toast, even if he never turns the ball over.
Ranchbabe: Tommy Abracadabra has one job--do just enough that the defense cannot completely tee off on Abdullah. Fortunately, he has wideouts that can do things like this and this. He is difficult to tackle when he runs and has made some good decisions in the zone read and option plays in that regard. While he still needs to work on his reads during a pass play (Nebraska fans may start a drinking game for every time he doesn’t use his checkdown), he is protecting the ball better, and he is good at shaking off a bad play and moving on. Most of the things he needs to improve are coachable, so we have high hopes he will continue to develop. Plus, Husker fans love their quarterbacks named Tommy.