Music City Bowl: Five Cornhuskers to Watch for Against the Tennessee Vols

Sep 3, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley laughs with cornerback Chris Jones (8) prior to the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee faces off against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl on Friday. Here are five Cornhuskers to watch for against the Volunteers.

This year’s Music City Bowl is a game featuring two of the most historic programs in college football history.

Tennessee faces off with Nebraska this Friday in Nashville. However, the star power in this game is really lacking due to multiple injuries and suspensions for both the Vols and the Cornhuskers.

This is especially true for Nebraska, as they will seemingly be without the services of their three best players come Friday.

Longtime starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who is like Nebraska’s Josh Dobbs in many ways, is all but 100 percent ruled out for the bowl game due to a nagging hamstring injury. He may only come into the game in an “emergency” situation according to Nebraska head coach Mike Riley.

The Huskers’ leading receiver, Jordan Westerkamp, will be out due to a recent knee surgery. That is another huge blow to their offense.

On defense, the news doesn’t get much better for Nebraska. Senior safety Nate Gerry was ruled ineligible for the Music City Bowl due to a violation of team rules.

So that’s three seniors crucial to Nebraska who will most likely not see the field this Friday.

Who, then, should Vol fans be looking out for when scouting their final opponent of the season? Especially if the biggest threats that Nebraska has on their roster won’t be seen?

Nebraska had a pretty good season this year at 9-3, even starting 7-0 and reaching as high as No. 7 in the process. This was due to the contributions of more than just three players.

So the Huksers still have enough bodies to get the job done on Friday.

Here are five Nebraska players that Vols fans should watch for when the Music City Bowl kicks off Friday.

Nov 5, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Mike Weber (25) is tackled by Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive end Ross Dzuris (88)during the second quarter at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State Buckeyes lead 31-3 at half. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

5

Ross Dzuris

Defensive End, Senior

On the defensive side of the ball for Nebraska, Vol fans should be sure to watch for senior defensive end Ross Dzuris.

The Nebraska native has improved in all categories from a year ago and leads the Huskers in both sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (9.5) on the season and will look to go out with a victory in his final game for the Big Red.

Tennessee’s offensive line has been inconsistent most of the season due in part to injuries to key contributors such as Chance Hall who will be out for Friday’s game. The line can struggle at times with pass protection but this go unnoticed a lot of the time due to Josh Dobbs’ ability to scramble and escape pressure.

It will be up to Dzuris to lead the Cornhuskers pass rush, take advantage of a mediocre Vols offensive line, and keeping Dobbs contained and forccing him to make mistakes that could greatly benefit Nebraska.

With the threat of Nate Gerry in the secondary gone, it becomes much more vital that Nebraska’s pass-rush gets to Dobbs fast so that he doesn’t pick apart the Huskers defense.

Nov 5, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. (8) runs during the second quarter at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State Buckeyes lead 62-3 in the fourth quarter. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

4

Stanley Morgan Jr.

Wide Receiver, Sophomore

To go ahead and get it out of the way, no, he is not the son of legendary Tennessee wide receiver Stanley Morgan.

Who Morgan is, however, is now Nebraska’s top receiver heading into the Music City Bowl after number one receiver Jordan Westerkamp was ruled out for the game after having season-ending knee surgery.

Morgan has a pretty pedestrian stat-line with just 30 receptions for 425 yards and two scores on the year, but this is a slight improvement after his freshman season a year ago. He was a consistent target for most of the season before basically disappearing in the Huskers’ final three regular season games outside of a touchdown reception versus Iowa.

However, now with Westerkamp out, Morgan will be the Huskers’ main receiving target and should be getting a lot more passes his way. For a Tennessee secondary that has had its struggles throughout the season, they must make sure that Morgan does not have his breakout game of the season in Nashville.

Expect Cam Sutton to be covering Morgan throughout Friday’s contest.

Sep 17, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers corner back Chris Jones (8) reacts after defeating the Oregon Ducks at Memorial Stadium. Cornhuskers won 35-32. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

3

Chris Jones

Cornerback, Junior

While the loss of both Tommy Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp are devastating for Nebraska’s offense, their defense also took a big hit before the Music City Bowl when senior leader safety Nate Gerry was ruled out for the game due to a violation of team rules.

With Gerry and his 12 career interceptions not being in the secondary for Friday’s game, the Cornhuskers defense will now have to look for their other experienced players to take a big step up. That’s why junior cornerback Chris Jones will be an important player to keep a close watch on when Tennessee is on offense.

Jones was instrumental in turning Nebraska into “Lockdown U” earlier in the season, a year after being near the bottom of the FBS in passing yards allowed. The improved secondary play was a key factor in the Cornhuskers 7-0 start to the season. And Jones has the numbers to prove it in his first season as a full-time starter: three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, nine passes defended, 33 tackles, three TFL, and one sack.

Jones is one of Nebraska’s top cover corners along with Joshua Kalu and will now be the heart and soul of the Big Red secondary with Gerry sitting this game out. Thus, his job as a corner will be much more important now that the Huskers best safety is gone.

Look for him to be on Josh Malone for most of the day as Nebraska tries to slow down a Tennessee passing attack that has been clicking very well over the past month.

Nov 19, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Maryland Terrapins linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. (23) tackles Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Terrell Newby (34) in the second half at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska won 28-7. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

2

Terrell Newby

Running Back, Senior

Seeing as the Cornhuskers will be without their star quarterback and leading wide receiver, who will Mike Riley have to turn to for some consistent production on offense?

Enter senior running back Terrell Newby.

The tough-running 5’10 back has had a decent senior campaign this year, rushing for 864 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground (both career highs) in addition to 138 yards and a touchdown receiving. Looking at those numbers, one would not see Newby as too much of a threat to defend against.

However, Tennessee’s rush defense was historically bad over the last half of the season due in part to the devastating injuries across the Vols defense. In that span, they allowed rushing performances such as Missouri’s Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter combining for 388 yards on the ground. Or the 443 total rushing yards that Kentucky rang up against the Vols. While both of those teams have good rushing attacks, they aren’t elite by any stretch of the imagination and Tennessee looked completely helpless against them.

So, unless Tennessee’s defense has done a complete 180 from what they have been recently and found a way to make up for the lack of talent on that side of the ball in the span of one month, look for Newby to potentially have a big game on Friday.

While Newby has only had two games of 100-plus rushing yards this season, he has only had four games of 20-plus attempts. With Armstrong and Westerkamp out, look for the Huskers to turn to Newby and make the ground game the focal point of their offensive attack against the Vols.

Nov 19, 2016; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Ryker Fyfe (17) attempts to throw the ball as Maryland Terrapins defensive lineman Jesse Aniebonam (41) defends in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

1

Ryker Fyfe

Quarterback, Senior

When analyzing an opponent’s best players to watch for, the back-up quarterback almost never fits into the equation. But with the injury of Tommy Armstrong, we have no choice but to focus in on the next man up. In this case, it is Nebraska’s senior back-up quarterback Ryker Fyfe.

Fyfe is the number one player that Vol fans should be on the lookout for in Nashville this Friday for a few reasons.

First of all, he is somewhat of an unknown factor for the Huskers offense. So Nebraska fans are going to be watching him nearly as closely as Vols fans will be. Yes, he has seen his share of important playing time this season due to injuries to Armstrong and is 1-1 as a starter in his career. Despite that, there still has not been enough of Fyfe shown on the field to really gauge what performance fans can expect of him come game time. Plus, he is battling a minor wrist injury that could hamper how effective he is on Friday.

In his lone start of the season against Maryland (a 28-7 Huskers win), Fyfe went a respectable 23-of-37 for 220 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. His only other significant action came in the middle of a blowout loss against Ohio State when Armstrong was knocked out of the game. He was a less than stellar 5-of-18 for 53 yards and threw an interception.

Another reason why Vol fans need to watch out for Fyfe is the fact that Tennessee doesn’t really have the best history when it comes to facing second-string quarterbacks.

Matt Mauck, Kevin Craft, pick your Florida quarterback, Jake Bentley, Matt Roark (if wide receivers count), etc. Tennessee’s history with facing back-ups this millennium has been horrifying (not including Austin Appleby) and could very well continue this trend on Friday if Fyfe leads the Huskers to a win.

So while Fyfe doesn’t present near the challenge that Armstrong does, he will still be the Huskers’ leading man this Friday and could definitely have a strong performance against a suspect Tennessee secondary.

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