October 20, 2014

Armstrong wants another shot at Michigan State (AUDIO)

It was a weekend full of upsets in college football, as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th ranked teams were all upset this past week…Five of the top ten schools lost. The Nebraska Cornhuskers did everything they could in the fourth quarter to make Michigan State the 6th top 10 team to lose, but the Huskers had too big of hole to dig out of, losing 27-22.

A 43-yard pass to Alonzo Moore gave the Huskers the ball at the Michigan State 37 with just under a minute to play, but Armstrong’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete, and Trae Waynes came up with his second interception of the game. Armstrong who went 20 of 43 for 273 yards and two picks wants one more crack at the Spartans

I mentioned during last week’s reports that something was going to give in the run game. Nebraska entered the game ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing, and Michigan State was No. 4 in rushing defense. That matchup wasn’t much of a contest. The Huskers managed only 47 yards on the ground — they had been averaging 355. Ameer Abdullah was held to 45 yards rushing, scored on a pair of short runs in the fourth.

The Huskers have a week off and then they’ll travel to Northwestern who upset #17 Wisconsin. One of the other upsets in the Top 25.

Comeback comes up just short for Huskers, fall to Spartans 27-22

Despite 19 fourth quarter points, 19th-ranked Nebraska was unable to overcome a 27-3 deficit and fell to 10th-ranked Michigan State 27-22 on Saturday night in East Lansing, Michigan. Tommy Armstrong’s pass intended for De’Mornay Pierson-El was intercepted by Trae Waynes with less than 30 seconds to play to seal the game for the Spartans.

It was all Michigan State for the first three quarters, as they jumped to a seemingly insurmountable 27-3 lead thanks to a stifling run defense and an opportunistic offense. Heisman trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah was bottled up all game long, finishing with just 24 carries for 45 yards, but he did manage two fourth quarter touchdowns to help bring Nebraska within striking distance. A 62-yard punt return for a touchdown by Pierson-El brought Nebraska to within 27-22 with 3:22 to play, but the Huskers could not recover an onside kick. After an initial first down, Michigan State’s Michael Geiger missed a 36-yard field goal with 1:05 remaining and Nebraska drove to the Spartans’ 37 before Armstrong was intercepted by Waynes.

Tony Lippett’s second touchdown of the day, a 32-yard score on a double reverse looked to have buried the Huskers’ chances late in the third quarter. Lippett’s 55-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter got the Spartans on the board early, and Michigan State carried a 17-0 lead into halftime after holding Nebraska to just 85 yards of total offense in the opening 30 minutes. Nebraska forced three Michigan State turnovers, but were unable to turn any of them into points. Conversely, Michigan State turned four Nebraska turnovers into 13 points in the game.

Armstrong finished 20-of-43 for 273 yards with two interceptions and one lost fumble. Jordan Westerkamp turned in his best game as a Husker with nine catches for 158 yards. Cook led Michigan State with an 11-of-29 passing day with 234 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while Lippett had three catches for 104 yards and two total touchdowns. Nebraska’s rushing offense, which averaged over 350 yards per game before Saturday night, had 37 carries for a total of 47 yards. Jeremy Langford had his ninth-straight 100-yard plus rushing game for the Spartans, with 29 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown, a 31-yard score early in the second quarter to put Michigan State up 14-0.

Nebraska drops to 5-1 on the season and 1-1 in Big Ten play as they head into their bye week next week and the halfway point of the season. Michigan State improved to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten with the victory and keeps its hopes alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Huskers are next in action in two weeks on October 18 at Northwestern, a surprising 20-14 winner over 17th-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday.

Huskers have struggled against ranked teams under Pelini (AUDIO0

If history repeats itself on Saturday, this could be a tough one for the Huskers when they travel to Michigan State. After grabbing a victory in its Big Ten opener against Illinois, Nebraska hits the road for the first time in conference action. The Huskers are 1-2 in Big Ten road openers, defeating Purdue last season, while losing at No. 7 Wisconsin in 2011 and at 12th-ranked Ohio State in 2012. Nebraska has had good success on the road since joining the Big Ten. The Huskers are 8-4 in conference road games since 2011, with wins in six of their last seven Big Ten road games, but as I mentioned history, when it comes to ranked teams in the opener, it’s been an issue for the Huskers. Michigan State comes into this game ranked 10th in the AP and Coaches Polls.

Under Pelini, Nebraska is 17-7 overall in conference road games, including a 9-3 record in Big 12 Conference road contests. Nebraska is 3-7 against ranked teams away from Lincoln under Pelini, with the most recent win at No. 12 Penn State in 2011. The Huskers’ last victory over a top-10 team on the road was a 27-14 win at No. 2 Washington in 1997.

Armstrong and other focused on eliminating turnovers against Michigan State (AUDIO)

Last year when the Huskers lost to Michigan State, Tommy Armstrong threw two big touchdown passes…a 32 yarder to Sam Burtch in the first quarter and a 38 yarder to Kenny Bell late in the third. Ameer Abdullah gained 123 yards on 32 carries. It was the first time a team was able to gain more than 300 yards of offense against that defense as NU racked up 392 yards. They also turned the ball over five times and that was the difference.  Armstrong says the Spartans are no fluke team.

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Abdullah, running game shine: Nebraska demolishes Illinois 45-14

91 plays later and 624 yards later, Nebraska’s offense still wasn’t satisfied. They may get their shot at satisfaction next week against a high-profile opponent and a chance to stake an early claim to the Big Ten.

Behind a dominating rushing performance and an opportunistic defense, 19th-ranked Nebraska moved to 5-o on the season with a comfortable 45-14 win over Illinois on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. With the win, the Huskers set up a huge game next weekend at Michigan State, the defending Big Ten champions.

Memorial Stadium sold out for the 337th consecutive time on Saturday, with 91,255 in attendance

Memorial Stadium sold out for the 337th consecutive time on Saturday, with 91,255 in attendance

Wearing their alternate uniforms, there was little changed from Nebraska’s successful offensive formula from a week ago and a 41-31 win over Miami. The Heisman trophy candidate Abdullah was once again spectacular, with 22 carries for 208 yards and three touchdowns as the Huskers took control in the second quarter and never looked back. Abdullah’s 208 yards moved him into second place on the all-time Nebraska rushing yardage list, passing Ahman Green in the process.

Nebraska took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in seven plays, with Abdullah capping off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. However, Illinois would answer with a 41-yard touchdown run from Josh Ferguson to tie the score at 7-7. Abdullah would add an 8-yard touchdown run and a 2-yard touchdown run on the night before retiring to the bench midway through the third quarter. By that point, it did not matter as the Huskers were well on their way to their fourth double-digit victory of the season.

Nebraska's offense was impressive in the Huskers 45-14 win over Illinois, gaining 624 yards of total offense

Nebraska’s offense was impressive in the Huskers 45-14 win over Illinois, gaining 624 yards of total offense

“We’re happy for the win. Like I told the team, I think there were some positives from this win, but a lot of things we need to get cleaned up,” head coach Bo Pelini said after the game. “I didn’t like the way we started defensively. We have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot early on in the games defensively.”

“We eventually settled down and played pretty well. But there were some things that were inexcusable that happened early in the game,” Pelini added.

Illinois had no answer for Nebraska’s brand of smash mouth football, as the Huskers rolled up 458 yards rushing and a whopping 6.5 yards per carry. With starting quarterback Wes Lunt out of the lineup with an apparent injury, backup Reilly O’Toole stepped in for the Illini and had a tough time against the Nebraska defense. O’Toole finished the night 17-of-38 for 261 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. Conversely, Tommy Armstrong ended his night 10-of-21 for 166 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Kenny Bell added a 63-yard touchdown grab and finished the night with 105 yards receiving on five catches.

It’s the third time this season Abdullah has rushed for over 200 yards in a game. The senior from Homewood, Alabama has racked up 833 yards rushing through five games, with 10 total touchdowns. Abdullah’s performance was certainly not surprising to Pelini.

“I like everything I see from Ameer. He’s a pretty special player,” Pelini said.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman agreed, heaping praise on the senior running back.

“I think that personally, he is probably as good as there is in the country,” Beckman said. “He is very good. Their offensive line is very good. I think Ameer would be the first one to tell you that.”

Although Abdullah did leave the game before the fourth quarter after getting dinged up, Pelini says Abdullah will be alright going forward.

“He got a little bruise. We felt the game was in hand, so we pulled the plug on him early in the third quarter and I thought that was the right thing to do.”

“Obviously, we have a lot of good running backs.”

Imani Cross finished over 100 yards with 109 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown, getting the most action since his arrival in Lincoln three seasons ago. The junior said it felt good to get more carries this week and help the offense continue their dominance.

At halftime, the marching band spelled out, "Fear Ameer" in honor of senior running back Ameer Abdullah

At halftime, the marching band spelled out, “Fear Ameer” in honor of senior running back Ameer Abdullah

“It was really fun to get that kind of action and contribute to the team,” Cross said. “I just did my role and played my part.”

Armstrong added 10 carries for 66 yards and Jordan Nelson added 35 yards. Terrell Newby added 34  yards rushing, including Nebraska’s final score on the night, a 6-yard touchdown run with 4:58 left to play in the game. Nebraska ran the ball a whopping 70 times, while passing it only 21. That’s not a bad ratio according to offensive guard Mike Moudy.

“As an offensive lineman, you just want to run the ball,” Moudy said. “Sometimes passes happen and you just have to live with it and give the quarterback protection and time. For the most part though, we just want to run it.”

Defensively, the Huskers forced three turnovers for a second straight week and limited Illinois to 339 yards of total offense. Cornerback Daniel Davie had two interceptions, while safety Nate Gerry added one in the second quarter, which he nearly took back for a touchdown. Randy Gregory appears to be returning to form, adding 2 1/2 sacks as the defensive line harassed O’Toole and the Illini offensive line all night long. Linebacker Zaire Anderson led the team with nine total tackles.

A win over the 9th ranked Spartans  next week would be the first road win over a top 10 team for the Huskers since a defeat of 2nd-ranked Washington in 1997. It’s certainly something that the Nebraska players are looking forward to, including offensive tackle Alex Lewis.

“I can’t wait. That’s all I gotta say,” Lewis said after the game. “It’s going to be a very good game up in East Lansing.”

Moudy agreed, saying it’s a big test for the team.

“Stakes just get higher from this point on. As the road goes on, you’ve got more to lose but you’ve got more to gain.”

Abdullah will be fine going forward according to Pelini, while the same can be said for cornerback Josh Mitchell, who left the game in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury. Pelini said the senior would be ok but he had worried him a little.

“He gave me a little scare. I thought it was going to be a bad one, but he’s good,” Pelini said. “It was actually his hip more than his knee, which is good news.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in front of a national television audience on ABC. It’s the first time Nebraska has started 5-0 since the 2010 season. Illinois dropped to 3-2 with the loss.