Nebraska limps into its matchup with Maryland in hopes of staying alive in the race for the Big Ten West
One week ago, we were wondering whether or not Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong would play against Minnesota due to a head injury suffered a week earlier. Well, here we are again, wondering whether or not the Cornhuskers' signal-caller will be taking the field against Maryland — this time due to a hamstring issue. Nebraska needed 100 percent of Armstrong's abilities to knock off the Gophers. Heading into this weekend, it is almost certain that Armstrong — if he plays — won't be anywhere near 100 percent. That's unfortunate, as Nebraska is very much alive in the Big Ten West race. The Huskers need some help from at least one other team, but a glimmer of hope remains.
On the other side of the field, it's been a largely forgettable first season for Maryland head coach DJ Durkin. Back-to-back blowout losses against Michigan and Ohio State have reminded the Terrapins of their current position in the Big Ten pecking order. That said, the prospect of facing a Nebraska team that could either be without or with a shell of its best player must look pretty good for Maryland right now. Durkin's squad only needs one win to become bowl eligible in 2016, and you can bet Maryland would like to secure a spot in the postseason on Saturday and head into next weekend's matchup with Rutgers with much less pressure.
Maryland at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNews
Spread: Nebraska -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterback position for Nebraska
Will Tommy Armstrong play? If he does, how much of a running threat will he be? His legs give the Nebraska offense another level on offense. If he's not as mobile as normal — or worse yet for Nebraska — doesn't play at all, the challenge just got a little easier for Maryland's defense. Ryker Fyfe, Nebraska's assumed backup quarterback, does not have anywhere near the mobility and athleticism that Armstrong possesses. The Terrapins would not need to account for another big-play threat in the Husker backfield.
2. The Nebraska receivers vs. Maryland's secondary
The Huskers have one of the top receiving corps in the Big Ten. Regardless of who is under center for Nebraska, Maryland is going to have its hands full all day. If the Terps can prevent big plays over the top early, it will force Nebraska to stick what what figures to be a fairly vanilla rushing attack. Additionally, Maryland may not have a ton of interceptions on the year, but getting open against the Terps can be easier said than done. If the Husker receivers struggle in that department, it will make life more difficult for what appears to be a fairly immobile quarterback — especially if Maryland brings a heavy pass rush.
3. Can Maryland move the ball on the ground?
The Terrapins have a fairly underrated and dynamic stable of backs. I can see them keeping fresh legs in the game in an attempt to control the clock and keep the ball away from Nebraska's dangerous offense. The Huskers give up 4.4 yards per rush — placing them in the bottom half of the nation statistically. If Maryland head coach DJ Durkin finds a week spot in that Nebraska front seven, he'll attack it until the Blackshirts can prove they can stop the Terps.
I see this game going a bit like the Michigan-Iowa contest did a week ago. I just don't know how good Nebraska can be without Tommy Amrstrong under center and fully healthy. The Cornhuskers have playmakers, but a lot of their opportunities are created because of the extra attention Armstrong draws. When Maryland has the ball, I think the Terrapins have puncher's chance to set the tone on the ground and shorten this game with the running back duo of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison. Look for Durkin to out-coach Mike Riley in this one and pull off the upset with a low-scoring, close win.
Prediction: Maryland 20, Nebraska 17
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.