The Nebraska Cornhuskers‘ offense last season occasionally looked like it was just thrown together. While running back Ameer Abdullah put on a show the entire season, three quarterbacks saw significant playing time, and wide receiver Kenny Bell backed up his 2012 campaign with mediocrity in 2013.
With an inexperienced offensive line, opponents are going to stack the box on Nebraska’s offense and force QB Tommy Armstrong, Jr. to throw the ball.
Opponents, especially those early on the schedule, are not going to mess around with Abdullah in the backfield. The mindset of the defense should be simple: If Nebraska is going to win, it’s going to be because Armstrong made it happen. On paper, that formula looks like it should be pretty effective. Even Big 10 teams like Rutgers and Illinois will have a shot to utilize this.
Armstrong did not do a whole lot to prove himself as a passer last season. Completing just over 50 percent of his passes, he threw only one more touchdown than he did interceptions. It’s fair to defend Armstrong by saying it was his freshman season and he was tossed into the mix under unfortunate circumstances, but the fact remains.
Ideally, Armstrong’s 2014 season would consist of a lot of game management as a quarterback who possesses one of the biggest threats in college football at running back. That’s where Nebraska will find the most success, but teams aren’t going to just sit back and take a steady dose of Abdullah. Every defensive coordinator on Nebraska’s schedule is thinking the same thing during the week of preparation: Make Armstrong throw the ball.
Not working in Nebraska’s favor for the time being is an offensive line that returns a very low 16 career starts, which is one of the lowest marks in the Big 10 and throughout the rest of the country. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck is an excellent play-caller from the sideline, but even he will find difficulty in working around this issue.
Bell might be Nebraska’s last hope if opponents can successfully push Armstrong into throwing the ball more. Bell exploded onto the scene two years ago with an astounding 50 receptions for 863 yards, but last season didn’t turn out as well as expected. He was still a versatile tool in Nebraska’s offense, but his production took a hit. He has to become a star once more this season if Armstrong is being forced to throw the ball more often.
Behind Bell, the next best option at wide receiver is sophomore Jordan Westerkamp, who only reeled in 283 yards last season.
If Nebraska’s early opponents find success in stacking the box and forcing Armstrong to beat them through the air, it could be a very long season for the Cornhuskers’ offense. If Armstrong can successfully combat that though, he may only have to fend off that tactic for a quarter while opponents make sure to still test him during conference matchups. In that case, Nebraska may have something to work with this season.