LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley said the Huskers might be “careful a little bit” as quarterback Ryker Fyfe makes his first career start on Saturday, but also said the NU offense has been comfortable with Fyfe as the junior has taken the first-team practice snaps this week.
Riley said after practice that Tommy Armstrong would not play at Purdue because of a turf toe-like injury, snapping a string of 22 consecutive starts for the junior.
“I like Ryker,” Riley said. “He’s going to do fine. He has prepared well from the very start of camp, and I’m excited for him.”
There was no surprise with the Armstrong announcement after he again left practice with his right foot in a boot. When asked how close Armstrong might have been to playing this week, Riley said: “Not close enough. Not real close.”
“As a matter of fact, it sounds like between yesterday and today it took a turn for the worse,” Riley said. “I don’t think that means long term, necessarily. It’s like the turf toe deal that just hasn’t gotten better. We just can’t risk him making it worse.”
So it becomes time to move on to Fyfe, a former walk-on from Grand Island who has played in just nine games and was away from the program for nearly three months after spring practice for what he called “personal stuff” in an August interview.
NU will have redshirt freshmen AJ Bush and Zack Darlington behind Fyfe for the 11 a.m. game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Riley said Nebraska also will be without starting safety Byerson Cockrell because of a death in his family and starting receiver Alonzo Moore because of a shoulder stinger that knocked him out of the Northwestern game last week. NU is getting back offensive tackle Nick Gates and linebacker Chris Weber, but neither will start against the Boilermakers.
Armstrong had started 29 of the last 31 games since replacing an injured Taylor Martinez in the lineup for a Sept. 21 home game with South Dakota State in 2013. The only exceptions were Martinez returning to start at Minnesota and Ron Kellogg against Iowa that season.
In his limited backup duty, which includes just one game this season, Fyfe has completed 10 of 18 career passes for 78 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
“Ryker is not held back by not knowing — it’s just experience in playing,” Riley said. “He’s run all these plays. He’s been the sole guy this week to take the first-string reps and get to execute in practice against the simulation of Purdue’s defense. So the knowledge of everything about what we’re doing — the pulling out of what we’re going to actually use in the game — he’s familiar with. So we’re all very comfortable with that.
“I was impressed with how our team just started, from Monday, just taking snaps with Ryker in there.”
Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin expects Fyfe to do what he needs to do at Purdue. Fyfe was The World-Herald All-Nebraska quarterback his senior season in 2011 when he accounted for 2,667 total yards and 34 touchdowns for the Islanders.
“Ever since I’ve known him, Ryker has been pretty much unflappable,” Tomlin said. “It’s hard to rattle him. He loves the competition.”
And also big games and big spots.
“He definitely rose to the occasion,” Tomlin said. “He wants the ball in his hands.”
Fyfe was his usual self when meeting briefly with reporters Tuesday, saying he would embrace the opportunity if it came but continue to prepare the same.
“You’ve got to stay locked in when you’re a No. 2,” he said. “You’ve got to stay mentally sharp and, whenever your name’s called, be ready to go.”
Fyfe had to go back to work against Bush and Darlington for the No. 2 spot in August after what he termed a “rough summer,” when he lost 23 pounds, was away from the team from early May to late July and wondered what his place might be on the depth chart.
But offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf joined Riley this week in saying that Fyfe would come prepared Saturday, in part because of his football intelligence.
“I think he really understands a lot of stuff conceptually that we’re doing,” Langsdorf said. “He’s got a good handle on coverage. He’s stayed with it, paid attention in meetings.”
World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: