Lincoln NE- A week ago it looked as if Nebraska hit rock bottom. After a 7-0 start to the season that had the Huskers ranked as the 7th best team in the nation the team lost a heart breaker in overtime to Wisconsin, and were blown out the following week 62-3 by Ohio State the second worst lost in program history. The loss knocked Nebraska all the way down to #21 in the AP Pools, and #19 in the Playoff picture. In the loss to Ohio State Nebraska’s leader Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was carted off the field for what looked to be a season ending injury. That wasn’t the case at all however as Tommy Armstrong was back on the field last night just a week after the Senior Quarterback’s carer looked to be over, and he led the Huskers to a must win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The game started off well for the visiting Gophers who controlled the B1G West Division heading into Saturday. It looked as if the Huskers were going to get off the field quickly but with the Gophers set to punt Nebraska failed to get lined up drawing an illegal formation call setting Minnesota up with a first down. On third down and seven from the Husker 40 Nebraska missed another key opportunity to get off the field as Aaron Williams was called for pass interference. Minnesota was able to cash in on the careless mistakes as Gopher Running Back Rodney Smith took the ball into the end zone for a three yard score giving the Gophers an early 7-0 lead.
As Nebraska took the field Memorial Stadium’s 353rd straight sell out crowd gave their Quarterback a standing ovation a week removed from being carted off the field in Columbus Tommy Armstrong (The Play can be seen below) led the Huskers offense and responded to the Gophers early score. Armstrong led a nine play drive the biggest play of the drive being a 19 yard Armstrong run. The drive stalled out at the 29 yard line of Minnesota as Drew Brown knocked through a 46 yard Field Goal cutting the Gopher lead to 7-3.
After the Husker defense forced a quick three and out Tommy Armstrong got right back to work. A quick five play drive ended in a Touchdown when Nebraska took a big gamble early in the Second Quarter to go for it on Fourth Down and two from the Minnesota 35 yard line. Armstrong was able to use his feet to find true Freshman Tre Bryant who took the ball to the house for a 35 yard score.
After both teams exchanged punts the Gophers seized control as Nebraska Punter Caleb Lightbourn put himself on the Sports Center Not Top 10 with a shanked put that went for -2 yards setting up Minnesota at their own 46. With a short field Minnesota Quarterback Mitch Leidner led his team down the field the big play of the drive being a 31 yard Rodney Smith run. The drive was capped off with a one yard rushing Touchdown by Leidner on a Fourth and Goal from the one yard line putting Minnesota up 14-10.
After another Nebraska punt Minnesota got the ball back with a Minute and Forty seconds left in the half. Again with a short field Minnesota cashed in for a three as Emmit Carpenter knocked through a 42 yard field goal as the half expired giving the Gophers a 17-10 halftime lead. This Field Goal would mark the end of any scoring by Minnesota.
Getting the ball first out of the half Tommy Armstrong and company wasted no time marching down the field to tie the ball game. An 11 play, 79 yard drive led by the arm of Armstrong, and legs of Terrell Newby was capped off by the two of seniors when Armstrong hit Newby on a screen pass and let his Halfback do the rest of the work breaking tackles on his way into the end zone a 31 yard score which tied things up at 17.
After forcing a punt Nebraska got the ball back and were given a big scare. After a Third and One run by Armstrong to give the Huskers a first down the Quarterback could not get up just a week after being carted off the Quarterback was down with a leg injury. The Senior came out for the rest of the drive as Ryker Fyfe replaced him and quickly Nebraska went backwards leading to another punt.
After Nebraska’s defense stayed tough forcing yet another punt #4 was back on the field and led one of the best drives of the entire Husker season. Starting at their own nine yard line with a Quarterback hobbling the odds did not look good for Nebraska but with the game in the Fourth Quarter the best Fourth Quarter team in the nation went to work. On the second play of the drive Armstrong hit De’ Mornay Pierson- El for a 29 yard game setting up Nebraska at the Minnesota 40. After a 9 yard Pierson El run Nebraska was set up at their own 49 yard line but faced a third and 11 due to a holding penalty. Armstrong stayed calm and found a sliding Alonzo Moore for a 16 yard gain taking the ball inside Minnesota territory to the 35. The very next play Armstrong hit captain Jordan Westerkamp for a first down gain of 10. Terrell Newby set up the Huskers with a second and one with a nine yard run but then the drive stalled. Facing a Fourth and One from the Minnesota 16 coach Mike Riley elected to for the first down rather than take a three point lead. The decision would turn out to be a good one as Terrell Newby got the first down with a three run gain. The very next play Nebraska found the end zone as Armstrong showed off just how tough he truly is taking a Quarterback keeper into the end zone for a 13 yard touchdown. Armstrong was so banged up after the play dealing with both a leg, and hamstring injury that he was picked up by two offensive linemen back to the Husker Sideline as he would not return.
The Huskers up 24-17 forced Minnesota to punt and looked as if they were going to have another big drive when Terrell Newby started of the Huskers ensuing possession with a 25 yard run. The drive quickly stalled when Cethan Carter was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Following a Lightbourn punt Leinder and the Gophers had two minutes and 58 seconds to score from their own 27.
Leinder marched down the field hitting Rodney Smith on back to back plays first for a gain of seven, then a gain of six reaching as the Gophers reached their own 40. Minnesota would benefit from a Josh Kalu pass interference penalty to cross midfield up to the Nebraska 45. After a quick three yard pass Leinder and the Gophers got into the red zone when he hit Tyler Johnson for a gain of 25. With Minnesota having plenty of time a fresh set of downs, and no Tommy Armstrong Nebraska’s defense needed a big play and that’s exactly what they got. Leinder’s first down pass was tipped and intercepted by Kieron Williams who grabbed his 5th, and biggest interception of the season. Nebraska took over with just a minute and 29 seconds left.
After burning their final time out Fyfe was able to take a pair of knees to run out the clock clinching Nebraska’s 8th win on the season, 18th straight home night game victory, and Tommy Armstrong’s 30th carer win the most of any active Power Five Quarterbacks. Now 8-2 and ranked #19 in the AP pool the Huskers will host Maryland for their final home game of 2016 next week in need of winning that game, their final game in Iowa City two weeks from now and a Wisconsin loss to clinch the B1G West. Minnesota now needs a lot of help to win the B1G West. They need to win their final two games which won’t be easy as they host Northwestern, and then travel to Madison to play the Badgers. They also would need Nebraska to slip up in one of their final two games.