Nebraska coaches: Armstrong’s passing funk not all his fault
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw for the most yards and touchdowns of any Big Ten quarterback through the first month of the season.
Since conference play began two weeks ago, no quarterback has struggled more.
The Cornhuskers’ third-year starter completed a combined 35.9 percent of his passes in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin, a far cry from his 58.9-percent accuracy in four nonconference games.
”Lies. Damn lies. Statistics,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said after Tuesday’s practice.
Langsdorf’s point: the numbers are the numbers, but they belong to the whole offense, not just Armstrong.
”Sometimes he’s been pressured. Sometimes he’s been chased out of the pocket. Maybe he’s been off-balance. Maybe the route was short. Maybe we didn’t catch the ball,” Langsdorf said. ”There are a lot of things in that passing game. To be a well-oiled machine, everything has to be going the right direction and on the same page. That’s what we’re working on.”
Armstrong, who didn’t speak to the media this week, passed for 316.5 yards a game and 11 touchdowns to lead the Big Ten through four weeks.
He was 10 for 31 for 105 yards, with one interception, in a 14-13 loss at Illinois on Oct. 3 and 11 of 28 for 129 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 23-21 loss to Wisconsin.
Armstrong had trouble getting his feet set, and sometimes he threw off his back foot. Langsdorf said high snaps and oncoming pass rushes led to some of the mechanical breakdowns; other times Armstrong simply didn’t step into his throws properly. Fundamentals have been a point of emphasis in practice this week.
But Langsdorf said Armstrong’s completion rate would have looked a lot better if there hadn’t been six dropped passes against Illinois and two more against Wisconsin.
Still, the breakdown of Armstrong’s hits and misses is telling. In the last two games he’s 15 of 23 on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage and up to 5 yards. He’s just 6 of 35 on throws longer than 5 yards.
”Receivers have to make plays, too,” Alonzo Moore said. ”Every ball is not going to be perfect. That’s why we play receiver, to go get the ball.”
Coach Mike Riley made it clear there would be no quarterback controversy. Armstrong’s versatility gives him a significant edge over backup Ryker Fyfe.
Armstrong is at his best when he throws on the move, and he’s a gifted runner. His combined 88 yards rushing on 16 carries made him the second-leading rusher behind fullback Andy Janovich the last two weeks.
Though most of his runs are designed, he scrambled 7 yards for the Huskers’ first touchdown against Wisconsin and kept alive a TD drive in the fourth when he escaped for a 16-yard run on a third-and-15.
”We have some quarterback runs, as you know, that look pretty darn good,” Riley said. ”They’re designated runs for the quarterback or options for the quarterback, and I love that part of it. I think that can help our tailback running game, but none of it’s going to be as good if we don’t pass the ball better.”
The Huskers will face one of the Big Ten’s most physical defenses in Minnesota, and it would be ambitious for them to expect to match the 500-plus yards they were averaging the first month of the season.
But Riley knows his offense is capable of more than the 308 yards it averaged against Illinois and Wisconsin.
”We have not arrived,” he said, ”because we have faltered badly the last two weeks. We’ve just got to bring it back.”
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org