click meAdvertisement

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2016 Team Awards

Strong individual performances from players like Nate Gerry led to a significant turnaround during Mike Riley's second season at the helm in Lincoln

Although the 2016 regular season campaign did not end the way many in Husker Nation would have liked it to, the Nebraska Cornhuskers showed significant progress -- both in terms of adapting to head coach Mike Riley's culture and system as well as in the win column.

 

The progress was driven by the individual performances and overall improvements of several Nebraska players, combined with some memorable moments throughout the season.

 

Offensive MVP: Tommy Armstrong, QB

This was not about stats -- it was about reality and the eye test. Nebraska was a different team when Armstrong was out of the game or not at 100 percent. His skill set and leadership were on full display against Oregon and Minnesota. He willed his team to victories in those games.

 

Defensive MVP: Nate Gerry, DB

Gerry evolved into one of the best safeties in college football over the last two years. He became an enforcer and intimidating presence in the secondary as well as a key asset in defending the run. He had some very timely interceptions and was perhaps the surest tackler on the Blackshirt defense.

 

Best Freshman: Tre Bryant, RB

Bryant rose from the bottom of the depth chart to essentially become the No. 2 option at running back before season's end. He showed flashes of elite playmaking ability both out of the backfield and on special teams.

 

Best Play of the Season: Armstrong's Game-Winning Run Against Oregon

The senior quarterback put the Nebraska team on his back and carried them 34 yards to victory in a game that felt like it was always going to set the tone for the season.

 

Best Performance: Armstrong vs. Minnesota

The Huskers quite simply don't win the game without Armstrong. Statistically, he had better games in 2016. That said, his 70 percent completion rate and 6.8 yards per carry were the difference for Nebraska in a one-score game.

 
Best Game: Nebraska 24, Northwestern 13

The Huskers soundly defeated what eventually proved to be a solid Northwestern squad. It was a total team effort on both sides of the ball, as Nebraska topped 300 yards rushing on offense and were in Northwestern's backfield the entire night on defense.

 

Defining Moment: Armstrong carried off the field against Minnesota

Having just scrambled for what was essentially the game-winning touchdown, Armstrong came up hobbling. His offensive line quickly came to his aid and carried him to the sideline. If it wasn't clear before, Armstrong had become the face of Nebraska football and his team felt obligated to finally carry him when he needed help -- as opposed to the other way around.

 

Biggest Surprise: The Play of the Defensive Line

New defensive line coach John Parrella seemed to light a fire under a unit that was feared by many (including myself) to be the team's biggest weakness before the season started. By midseason, it was apparent that the unit was in fact one of the team's strengths.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Devine Ozigbo, RB

Late last season and early in the 2016 campaign, Ozigbo looked as if he was about to rise up and become Nebraska's next great workhorse at running back. Injuries and some unexplained absences in games prevented that from happening.

 
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Tommy Armstrong, QB

No brainer. The system wasn't designed for his skill set, but his leadership and playmaking ability allowed Nebraska to thrive offensively when he was on the field. Armstrong was the right man at the right time during a significant transition in Husker history.

 
Player to Watch in 2017: Chris Jones, DB

Jones will return for his senior season and will be the most talented and seasoned players in the Nebraska secondary. His play during the first half of 2016 was a little better than in the second, but that may very well have been part of what motivated him to return. He's a prototypical lockdown corner with the size and speed to match up with any skill position player. His ability to play on an island will give Nebraska's defense much more freedom schematically.

 
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Improving Aggressiveness in the Trenches

Two of Nebraska's three losses were a result of being outmuscled at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Personnel-wise, not much is going to change on either line for Nebraska heading into 2017. Defensively, it's just a matter of changing attitude. On offense, however, Mike Riley must now give serious thought about transitioning away from the current balanced attack that catered to Tommy Armstrong's skills to a more pass-heavy scheme. Constantly having your offensive line in pass-protection mode is not the way to set the tone and control the line of scrimmage -- especially in the Big Ten. Given that, it's tough to tell how Riley is going to adapt his offense to fit his future signal-callers while simultaneously conforming to life in a blue-collar conference.

 

— 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.

Event Date: 
Saturday, December 3, 2016 - 19:52

More Stories: