As Tommy Armstrong scored with 2 and a half minutes to go, the Anderson house went nuts. Even then, with my heart about to explode, I said that regardless of the outcome, the objective for this season remained in tact. Its true. Beating Oregon is not the ultimate goal. Then we did it. I was ridiculously overjoyed.I couldn’t get my head around why. The Oregon Ducks are not the same squad that went to the National Title game 2 years ago. Nor are they a conference foe. The outcome of this game has no bearing on NU’s final goal for 2016. So why am I jumping around acting like a maniac? Its a great question. To be sure, this victory feels much greater than it looks on paper. This team fought its ass off Saturday afternoon. That grit is a far cry from a year ago. It was far from a flawless effort. In fact there are still a lot of areas to clean up. But this win represents a change for this program. This isn’t a team that is going to piss away every game like it did a year ago. This team is tougher, more focused. The goals remain clear, a Big 10 West title. But after that dog fight Saturday, I feel much better about the makeup of this squad going forward.
The Husker offense was all over the map Saturday. Early on, this unit struggled to get any traction on the ground against a speedy Oregon defense. It was through the air that NU made its bones. Tommy Armstrong hit Jordan Westercamp twice in the first half for scores. After halftime it was a different story. The boys up front began to assert their will on the Ducks. Devine Ozigbo and company plowed ahead for 2 consecutive TDs to start the half. It was absolutely gorgeous. Its a shame that Terrell Newby left the game early with an injury. He looked terrific in the first half and I thought he was well on his way to his best game as a Husker. Last week I was pretty hard on Tommy Armstrong. Despite his considerable numbers, I pounded him for his inaccuracy and decision making. Saturday Tom was an absolute stud. He was a god damn baller. He threw for 200 yards, ran for 96 more including the game winning score with 2:30 to go. Despite some apparent cramping, Armstrong showed his true mettle. His toughness and leadership were on display for everyone to see. He was a big time player and torch bearer for this offense. Best of all, Armstrong never made the big mistake. He was responsible for a turnover late in the first half, but I chalk that up to an asinine call by Danny Langsdorf. On this day, the offense was pretty good. Not perfect, to be sure, but productive enough to earn a win against a quality opponent.
The Nebraska defense had its hands full against the Ducks. It became clear very early that Oregon was substantially more athletic than the Huskers. Oregon ran for 327 yards, an average of 7 yards per attempt. The zone read game with Prukop and whichever back they threw out there was particularly troublesome for the Blackshirts. If I’m an Oregon fan, I’m pissed they didn’t use it more. It appeared the NU defense never really got its arms around it. 3rd downs were a big problem for the defense. 2 of Oregon’s TDs came on 3rd down, there was a 3rd and 26 debacle and the Ducks were consistently able to sustain drives on 3rd down. NU threw a wide variety of looks at Prukop and the Oregon offense. They often used the 3 down lineman nickel look they have unveiled thus far this season. Sometimes it worked, producing pressure and thwarting Duck drives. Other times Prukop picked apart the package. The Husker’s had their hands full with the myriad of weapons the Duck’s posses. There were times this unit got absolutely gashed. The 10 play 97 yard drive comes to mind. This was not a pretty victory for the defense. They certainly took their lumps. Regardless, this unit saved the game, twice. Trailing 28-32 halfway through the 4th quarter a Duck TD would have spelled doom. They responded with a 3 and out. After the game winning TD run by Armstrong there was still 2:32 on the clock, and a 3 point lead. That’s plenty of time for the Ducks. But this unit stepped up once more. That should not be overlooked. For all their struggles Saturday, the Husker defense stepped up and salted this one away. That fact commands respect.
This game is extra meaningful for Mike Riley. A win like this, against his old nemesis, has to carry a special feeling. It won’t hurt that his team played pretty well. Riley made some decisions that were a bit out of character. In the first half NU went for it in Oregon territory on a 4th and long. They were unsuccessful. Then, with 3 minutes to play, and 3 timeouts, he went for it on 4th and 8 just on NU’s side of the field. This time Armstrong hit Westercamp for a 14 yard gain and the Huskers scored the game’s winning score. That took some serious onions. Coach Riley deserves a lot of credit for making that difficult decision. If NU punts the ball there, perhaps they don’t get the ball back. Unfortunately, the coaching wasn’t all good. On a drive toward the end of the first half NU was rolling. The running game was just getting traction and Tommy Armstrong was sharp. Danny Langsdorf called this ridiculous backward pass that resulted in a turnover, good field position, and ultimately a TD for Oregon. Can someone tell me what the point of that was? Langsdorf needs to learn not to overthink things. When something is working, there is no need for trickery. Pound the ball, get points and move on. Choices like that cost you points and games. Langsdorf had better understand what a perilous spot he put this team in.
This is a great win for this program. This was a hell of a test for the Huskers. A win like this changes things. Oregon has been tremendously successful over the last decade or so. They have become a standard on the west coast. Is this team as good as those in the past? I highly doubt it. Still, this is a terrific win for this program under Mike Riley. It also cements my opinion that NU is a pretty good team this year. However, good teams don’t stub their toe at Northwestern next week, or at home to Illinois or Purdue. Good teams go into Bloomington and pillage the damn place. The Huskers should win each of their next 4 games against the bottom of this conference. I expect it, and so should you. That would put NU 7-0 and headed toward a date with Wisconsin Halloween weekend. Camp Randall, Saturday night, with all the students dressed in their Donald Trump costumes. That place is something of a house of horrors for the Huskers. But at this point, this squad appears set to break out from the horrors of years past. That is why a win like this feels greater than it is on paper. It represents progress and change going forward. I couldn’t be happier.