The Cornhusker Recap, Week 3: Ducks Encounter Three-Stripe Strife

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There are few moments like it in a football season. If you’re lucky, you might get one or two, though Nebraska has seen its share of seasons lately with none.

It’s when — if you can take just a second in the moment to reflect — you realize your team is right in it. We might actually pull this off. It’s a huge game balancing on the edge of a knife, and the outcome of a contest between a collection of 18- to 22-year-olds are going to have an outsize effect on your emotional well-being for a period of months. Years. Decades? Maybe. Kind of absurd when you think about it. But the chance of victory is why we’re there.

It’s the moment before Tyrod Taylor uncorks an 81-yard pass to rip out the hearts of Husker fans.

It’s the last play of the 2009 Big XII championship.

It’s coming within a hair’s breadth of completing a stunning comeback against Michigan State in 2014.

It’s the moment before Tanner Mangum’s Hail Mary finds a target to begin the 2015 season.

And what do all these moments have in common? They’ve taught me not to believe. To hedge my Husker faith with a healthy dose of realism.

We had another one of those moments on Saturday.

Facing 4th and 9 at its own 48-yard line, trailing the Oregon Ducks 32-28, Nebraska elected to go for it. Success meant they got a few more shots for a touchdown. Failure meant giving Oregon a short field.

Armstrong to Westerkamp. Complete. 14 yards. First down. Two Tommy runs later and Nebraska found itself with a 3-point lead and in position to take down a ranked non-conference opponent at home for the first time since 2001.

It’s a play (and play call!) that Nebraska fans will remember for a long time. If the people sitting around me could decipher my hoarse voice, they would have heard me prior to the play saying we should punt. But Nebraska rose to The Moment.

With a win like that, it could be the beginning of a season with more moments like that to come.

On with the Recap.

Opponent Round-Up:

Previous Opponents: 5-4

Fresno State (1-2): 52-17 loss at Toledo.
Wyoming (2-1): 45-22 win over UC Davis.
#22 Oregon (2-1): Yesssssssssssssssssssss.

Future Opponents: 18-6

9/24 @ Northwestern (1-2): 24-13 win over Duke. (6:30 PM, TV: BTN)
10/1 Illinois (1-2): 34-10 loss to Western Michigan. (2:30 PM, TV: TBA)
10/8 Bye Week
10/15 @ Indiana (2-0): Bye week. (2:30 PM, TV: TBA)
10/22 Purdue (1-1): Bye week. (Time & TV TBA)
10/29 @ #11 Wisconsin (3-0): 23-17 win over Georgia State. (6:00 PM, TV: ABC/ESPN/2)
11/5 @ #2 Ohio State (3-0): 45-24 win at Oklahoma. (7:00 PM, TV: ABC/ESPN/2)
11/12 Minnesota (2-0): Bye week. (6:30 PM, TV: BTN)
11/19 Maryland (3-0): 30-24 win over Central Florida. (Time & TV TBA)
11/25 @ Iowa (2-1): 23-21 loss to North Dakota State. (Time & TV TBA)

Apparently Northwestern just needed to play a Power 5 team to get its first win of the season… Illinois suffered a second straight home loss, this time to Western Michigan. Still, they get a bye week between now and traveling to Nebraska in two weeks… Wisconsin got a scare from Georgia State. Safe to say they were looking ahead to Michigan State just a little bit… Ohio State moves to 3-0 with a 45-24 thrashing of Oklahoma on the road. And this was supposed to be a rebuilding year?! … When will teams learn to stop scheduling North Dakota State?!

The Tommy-to-Taylor Ladder:

Lost in the shuffle of his late touchdown run and the magnificence of The Moment, Tommy Armstrong added 200 yards in the air to become the all-time passing-yards leader in Nebraska history. Congratulations to him!

1. Tommy Armstrong Jr. (7,376)
2. Taylor Martinez (7,258)
3. Zac Taylor (5,850)
4. Joe Ganz (5,125)
5. Dave Humm (5,035)
6. Jerry Tagge (4,704)
7. Eric Crouch (4,481)
8. Tommie Frazier (3,521)
9. Turner Gill (3,317)
10. Vince Ferragamo (3,224)

It might be time to chart his ascent on the rushing yards list just to have something to track every week. He entered 2016 #48 on the list. His 149 rushing yards so far this season have been enough to put him at #41, ahead of the likes of Turner Gill, Tom Rathman, and Joel Makovicka. Terrell Newby currently occupies similar territory on the list at #39. (Armstrong: 1,456 career rushing yards; Newby 1,478.) Should be a good race between the two of them this year. In fact, I just decided: We’ll be back next week with a chart for the two of them and their 2016 race.

The Wester-Ladder:

His three catches only netted him 39 yards, but that catch on 4th and 9 probably should’ve counted for about 200 yards given the significance. He caught Nebraska’s first two touchdowns of the day on his receptions prior to that one.

1. Kenny Bell (2,689)
2. Johnny Rodgers (2,479)
3. Nate Swift (2,476)
4. Jordan Westerkamp (2,098)
5. Terrence Nunn (1,762)
6. Todd Peterson (1,602)
7. Niles Paul (1,532)
8. Quincy Enunwa (1,526)
9. Matt Davison (1,456)
10. Maurice Purify (1,444)

His streak of consecutive games with a catch stretches to 29 and his yardage is just short of the 2,100-yard mark for his career.

Odds & N’s:

Another awesome gesture for Sam Foltz by Oregon, placing a bouquet of flowers at the 27-yard line before the game. Very classy.

De’Mornay Pierson-El. Wow. When Nebraska needed a big moment, the guy sure came through. His 45-yard punt return (with an interference flag, no less) just before halftime put the Huskers in position to go into halftime with a 6-point deficit rather than 13. Huge.

Three fumbles in the second quarter, with the third nearly being a killer. Yikes. Gotta hold on to the ball.

Man, it’s so much easier to gloss over little things when you come out on the right side of a game like that. I had all sorts of nits to pick (kicking game issues, penalties, why the crowd probably shouldn’t cheer Iowa’s loss) but I’m just going to bid you a good day and move on.

The students held up a banner to commemorate the 350th straight sellout of Memorial Stadium and … I had no idea who the guy on it was. Apparently it was DJ Khaled, whoever that is. I’m getting old. Nice execution by the students, though.

Through three games I’ve yet to have a slice of Valentino’s pizza. There is something seriously wrong with me.

I have to give Oregon props for their dedication to Nike. Each time Nebraska promoted Adidas on the scoreboard, boos rained from those in yellow and green. Caught me off guard the first time, because I couldn’t fathom what was making them jeer. Then I remembered they’re hopelessly dependent on a corporation for their football pride and identity. Yeah, I said it! #fightinwords

Seemed like we were about to have some big sound issues with the Tunnel Walk, but it mostly came through. Not the best look when an opponent like Oregon is at your house.

I wrote about section confusion last week and, sure enough, found an offender in my seat this week. I can understand the section mishap, but he was five seats off his assigned spot! Nice try, though.

What do you know, Nebrasketball is going to retire Tyron Lue’s jersey. Surely it’s a coincidence they waited 18 years to do so, and it happens to come in the year he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title… Hmm…

Feels pretty darn nice to be 3-0.

Tom Shatel had an interesting article on how Nebraska went with Adidas instead of Nike, against the wishes of Phil Knight, the company’s founder. Before the three-stripe life, Nebraska flirted with Converse and … Apex?! What in the world is that?

Lee Barfknecht has some extra details on De’Mornay Pierson-El’s extremely timely punt return.

Barfknecht also says Nebraska might as well be Big Ten West favorites at this point.

The second-half power of Devine Ozigbo was a huge key in the win, writes Rich Kaipust. After just three carries in the first half, he was fed 18 times in the second.

Sam McKewon writes that Tommy Armstrong had just enough left in the tank to carry Nebraska over the finish line. One fascinating tidbit from his story? Oregon had gone 82 straight games with at least one touchdown pass until Saturday. That’s insane.

Tunnel Walk of Shame is always worth a read. This week: We have a special teams coordinator??

Opponent Preview:

Ah, our old friends, Northwestern.

The Wildcats have been one of the most consistent foes Nebraska has faced since joining the Big Ten. 2014 was the only time this matchup went lopsided, with the Huskers winning 38-17 in Evanston. Take out that result and you have a series comprised of wild comebacks, Hail Marys, pick-sixes, and a series score of Northwestern 110, Nebraska 111.

After a 10-2 season in 2015, things haven’t started swimmingly this year for the Cats. Home losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State put them in an 0-2 hole before a win over Duke last weekend.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson isn’t what you’d call a dangerous signal-caller, but he can get the ball to guys who are. Justin Jackson (a Nebraska recruiting miss) will be quick out of the backfield and Austin Carr will have to be the Blackshirts’ main focus in the secondary. Both have touchdowns of 40+ yards on the season. Pat Fitzgerald will have his group ready to play.

For the Huskers, it starts a four-game stretch in which they’ll likely be favored to win each contest. Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue is the lineup. Three of those teams beat NU last year and the fourth, Indiana, hasn’t faced Nebraska in Big Ten play.

Can they stay focused after a huge win against Oregon? It’ll take a level of discipline we never saw from the team in 2015. The games won’t have the luster of Oregon, but are crucial if Nebraska wants to make an appearance in Indianapolis later this year.

And if they can get past these four to make it to 7-0? Who knows. We may have another chance for a Moment against Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Thanks for reading! See you back here next week.

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