I’m guessing a lot of you thought you had seen Nebraska take the field for the last time in 2015, didn’t you? Not so as thanks to a lack of bowl-eligible teams and the Cornhuskers’ excellent academic standing, Mike Riley’s squad will play one more game. One against an opponent familiar to the Huskers’ head man, even. Believe it or not, this Foster Farms Bowl between Nebraska and UCLA has all the makings of a postseason matchup you might not want to miss.
UCLA vs. Nebraska (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Kickoff: 9:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: UCLA -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Version of Tommy Armstrong Shows Up
Will “Good” Armstrong throw with confidence, trust in his receivers and, preferably, not off his back foot or will “Bad” Tommy make an appearance as the guy who leads the Nebraska offense into cartoon buffoonery?
This plays into one of the areas where this game will be won or lost, which we will get to shortly.
On paper, UCLA appears to give Armstrong just enough of a window to do some damage, given that the Bruins rank No. 41 overall against the pass, giving up 206 yards through the air. However, the Cornhuskers appear to mirror two teams (in terms of how many times they actually pass the ball) that didn’t do so well against the UCLA secondary.
Utah and USC both attempted 26 passes, only managing 110 and 176 yards, respectively. Armstrong needs to get in sync with his receivers quickly or there’s a good chance it’ll be “game over” in a hurry.
2. How Well Nebraska Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf Exploits UCLA’s Defense
While UCLA true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen will have every opportunity to slice and dice the Blackshirt defensive backs, the Bruins aren’t exactly gatekeepers when it comes to the end zone.
They held then-No. 20 Utah to only nine points, but six teams scored 30 or more throughout the season. Along with losing playmakers like defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack to injury, UCLA struggles against the run. One has to wonder how they’ll hold back a rushing attack from the Big Ten, even if it’s inconsistent.
3. The Turnover Margin
This is where “Good Tommy vs. Bad Tommy” comes into play. He can make or break the game. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to avoid a defensive back dynamo like Iowa’s Desmond King, but obviously UCLA’s defense will do everything it can to make Armstrong second guess himself.
The Huskers have a turnover margin of minus-13 and haven’t had a game with a better showing than the opposition since their Oct. 17 victory over Minnesota. Nebraska can afford to be one in the hole and still win the game, but if the Big Red digs deeper than that, consider it a lost cause.
With UCLA’s speed and wunderkind under center taking on a Nebraska team looking to use this game as a springboard into 2016, these are two motivated teams that could keep the final margin in the double digits.
While making my pick, I look to UCLA true freshman QB Josh Rosen versus Nebraska’s secondary. He’s too good and try as the Huskers might, they’re not on his level. While he may have an off day and the Big Red could channel the same energy that carried it to a win over a then-top-10 Michigan State team... I’m not seeing a late Christmas present for those Nebraska fans that make the trek to the San Francisco Bay area.
I will use the same words that I did prior to that upset, though. Prove me wrong, Huskers.