Iowa defense adds to misery for banged-up Tommy Armstrong
IOWA CITY — The last three weeks of practice have been a mad scramble for Nebraska with its quarterbacks, right down to the Huskers preparing Zack Darlington behind Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe just in case.
It might have finally caught up to the Huskers on Friday.
Armstrong returned to the starting lineup but completed just 13 of 35 passes in the 40-10 loss to Iowa. With the senior becoming more limited physically as the game went on, head coach Mike Riley even thought about using Fyfe before the final series, although he pointed out that the backup was probably even further behind in his preparations this week.
But Riley hesitated afterwards to say that missed practice time and uncertainty leading up to the last three games was the Huskers’ biggest problem as Iowa held NU to 217 total yards.
“I think that Iowa had as much to do with it as anything,” Riley said. “Now certainly Tommy probably wasn’t 100 percent, nor was Ryker and all that, but with the overall picture of what it looked like today … we can’t come close to using that as a reason or excuse.”
Nebraska never found an offensive rhythm and never seemed to have the right timing, and thus never could really dig itself out of what seemed like a game-long hole.
Armstrong returned to practice Monday after missing the Maryland game with a hamstring injury, but Nebraska never was quite sure where his health would be by Friday. Fyfe required surgery for a broken bone in his wrist Sunday and started easing back into work Tuesday but with his left wrist wrapped.
Senior receivers Brandon Reilly and Jordan Westerkamp both downplayed what the impact might have been against Iowa’s defense, but nothing seemed to consistently be there.
“We weren’t really sure who was going to be out there, but we got to figure out how to adjust with who’s under center,” Reilly said. “I know Tommy was fighting out there — he was pretty dinged up — but we got to help him out, especially when he’s hurt.”
Armstrong walked gingerly to the NU interview room, with the one positive being that he now will have at least a month to rehab the hamstring injury that came on the heels of his post-Ohio State time in concussion protocol.
“I told them I could do everything,” Armstrong said. “As we got into the game, and we started doing more and more, I think my leg just started giving out on me. But it’s something I just got to rehab, take care of.”
Armstrong said he felt good through the week, although Riley had said after Wednesday’s practice that the senior had yet to “cut it loose” as far as going game speed.
The time for that came almost immediately Friday, with the Huskers running a quarterback draw on their third snap and Armstrong straining to find the final inches on a third-and-3 that NU would not convert.
“It’s just something you don’t know a lot about until you get out there and actually get hit for that first time,” Armstrong said. “And I think after I got hit that first time it was kind of a reality check, like, ‘Oh, man, this may be a long game.’
“But I did as much as I could. When I had to run here and there, I got what I could. But with a hamstring, it’s just iffy when it comes to playing.”
The Huskers, though, also pointed to some plays that they didn’t make, including several deep balls to Reilly that were overthrown. The ground game didn’t produce any run longer than 11 yards, with I-backs Tre Bryant and Terrell Newby combining for 80 yards on 21 attempts.
“As a unit, I think we played poorly,” Armstrong said. “But we just had to execute, and we didn’t respond the right way.
“Overall, I think we just left some plays here and there that kind of got us out of the game, got us out of rhythm early in the game, and it just came back to haunt us later in that second half.”
Would a healthier Armstrong have made a difference?
“I don’t think he was probably 100 percent, but we knew that going in and he was pretty confident that he felt good enough,” NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said.
Would more practice time or a clearer picture at quarterback put things in better hands Friday?
“I’m not really sure,” Westerkamp said. “I mean, guys still got tons of reps this week, so I don’t think it really affected anything.”