Tommy Armstrong’s career could end tomorrow and he’d have played in more close games than any quarterback in Nebraska history.
Think about what this guy has been part of:
Northwestern 2013 (the Hail Mary)
Michigan 2013 (fourth-quarter comeback)
Penn State 2013 (overtime thriller)
Georgia 2013 (99-yard TD)
McNeese State 2014 (Ameer’s heroics)
Michigan State 2014 (the almost-rally)
Minnesota 2014 (De'Mornay's goal-line fumble)
Iowa 2014 (last-minute drive and OT touchdown pass)
USC 2014 (wild, wild, wild game)
BYU 2015 (Hail Mary)
Illinois 2015 (third-and-7…ugh!)
Wisconsin 2015 (last-second field goal)
Northwestern 2015 (killer pick-six)
Michigan State 2015 (he was pushed out!)
Iowa 2015 (rock bottom)
Taylor Martinez’s career may have been more interesting, but T-Magic can’t rival the twists and turns of Tommy.
But after all of those nail-biters — all that turbulence — Saturday’s fourth quarter felt different. Maybe because it kept Nebraska undefeated. Maybe because it was Oregon. Or maybe because Armstrong faced fourth-and-9 and delivered. There’s something about that fourth down that stuck with me all weekend.
There was no “next play” for Armstrong. He had to perform. And he threw a strike in traffic. The play of his career, if you ask me.
I’m sure Husker fans would like to see a smoother ride the next month. Fewer last-minute decisions. But I imagine we haven’t seen the last of Tommy at crunch time.
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>> Speaking of the fourth-and-9, give Mike Riley a ton of credit for his aggressiveness Saturday. One of my criticisms a year ago was that Riley was too conservative in big moments, BYU and Wisconsin especially.
Well, Riley knows you must take some chances to beat Oregon. You can’t punt unless you have to punt. NU was 2-for-3 on fourth down and I agreed with each decision.
“Fortune favors the bold,” Riley said afterward. Amen.
>> At the risk of writing something so obvious you might slam your laptop shut and vow never to click on Mad Chatter again, I want to emphasize a basic rule in sports. Ready?
Not everybody in a conference can be good. Not everybody in a conference can be bad. And the more your peers struggle, the better your chances of winning big.
In August, I spent more hours than I’d like to admit digging through 20 years of major-conference results. I discovered a lot of things about home-field advantage. But there was something else I noticed: One program’s golden era inevitably coincided with a rival’s misery.
Oklahoma State and Baylor rose up in the Big 12 only after Texas fell apart. Michigan State rose to power in the Big Ten only after Michigan collapsed. Missouri took advantage of Nebraska’s decline in the Big 12. Once it joined the SEC, it took advantage of Florida’s slump.
In the Big Ten this season, there will be 126 wins and 126 losses. In the SEC, the cumulative total is 112-112. This is the law. Does not matter if everybody in the league rises to the level of Alabama, or if it’s Alabama and the 13 Kentuckys.
Here’s where I’m going with this: When I see Northwestern lose to Western Michigan and Illinois State, when I see Iowa lose to North Dakota State, when I see Wisconsin struggle with Georgia State, it’s tempting to think, “Gee, this stinks for Nebraska. It’s better for the Huskers if the division is strong.”
Heck no. The proper response is, “Wow, this really enhances Nebraska’s chances of a great season.”
Forget about 12-0. Nebraska isn’t beating Ohio State. But looking around the West, you see how the Huskers could do something like Iowa did in 2015.
>> Joe Voboril’s friends hounded him all week. “What color are you wearing?”
Voboril grew up in Wahoo, Nebraska. On home Saturdays in the fall, a coach drove him to Lincoln and dropped him off at Memorial Stadium, where he paid 50 cents and sat in the knothole section.
He graduated from UNL, went to law school and landed a job in Oregon, where he met his future wife. In about 1980, Voboril bought season tickets to Oregon football games. He was on the ground floor of the Duck dynasty.
But he never forgot about Big Red, returning to Lincoln every fall for a home game — “It’s in my blood.”
Which brings us to this weekend, when he and two Oregon friends flew back for the showdown. Which color was he going to wear? Both.
Last week, Voboril’s wife cut in half a green shirt and a red shirt, sewing them together. Then she cut Duck and Husker logos from other shirts and stitched those on his two-toned uniform.
“She’s a pretty good seamstress,” Voboril said.
His friends loved the shirt. So did fans on the street. But a man can only root for one team. Who was Voboril pulling for Saturday afternoon?
“Who do you think?” he texted me.
“Hard to ignore your roots,” I texted back.
>> Iowa’s loss to North Dakota State robbed the Big Ten of a signature weekend, but going 3-0 in the marquee games was dang impressive.
I wasn’t shocked Nebraska beat Oregon. I was shocked, however, that Michigan State routed Notre Dame (at least through three quarters). And I was even more shocked that Ohio State dominated Oklahoma.
The East race is gonna be incredible.
>> Honest question: Your school can schedule a nonconference game against Alabama or North Dakota State. Who you taking? I think I'd want the Crimson Tide. You might lose by 46 (as USC did), but at least there's a potential upside. NDSU beats your tail, takes your money (the Hawks paid $500,000) and leaves the "FCS" stain on your record.
The B1G is the best conference.
The ACC has the most CFP-caliber teams.
The SEC has the best team.
The Big 12 has teams.
What a debacle of a month for the Big 12. The league is 9-10 against FBS teams!
>> Week 2 of the NFL always blows my mind.
We all think the L.A. Rams are the worst team in the league? They come back and upset Seattle. That’s so typical in Week 2.
If the Bears beat the Eagles tonight, the NFC will have two teams at 2-0 (Giants and Vikings), two teams at 0-2 (Redskins and Saints) and 12 teams (!!!!) at 1-1.
That seems like it would be statistically impossible.
>> Ameer Abdullah went down with a foot injury Sunday. But the more worrisome situation is Danny Woodhead’s knee injury in San Diego. The Chadron State grad (and Elkhorn resident) tore his ACL in week 3 in 2014. Hopefully this isn’t a season-ender.
>> Let’s end on a laugher. On the final drive Saturday, Mark Banker got the Oregon Gorilla off his back. But in this video (shared by my colleagues Saturday night), it looks like I’m the one jumping off Banker’s back.
Folks, these are the things you gotta do to get the best soundbites. It is a bit humbling, though. As a friend asked this morning, “Who’s got the better widow’s peak?”
As the saying goes, the camera adds three inches to receding hairlines.