Last season, the Cornhuskers finished two games behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West standings and were defeated 59-24 by the Badgers in mid-November.
What will it take for Nebraska to close the gap in 2015? Quarterback play.
Adjusting to a new scheme or coaching staff is never an easy task for a quarterback. New coach Mike Riley plans on shifting Nebraska’s offense to more of a pro-style attack in this season, and the first-year coach inherits some talented pieces to work with.
The receiving corps could be among the best in the Big Ten, and the offensive line returns two seniors at the tackle positions. At running back, Terrell Newby and Imani Cross should anchor a productive ground game.
Considering the strength of Nebraska’s supporting cast, returning starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong will be under the microscope in 2015.
The junior has showed plenty of promise in his career, but there’s work for coordinator Danny Langsdorf and Riley to do this offseason.
Here’s a quick snapshot of Armstrong’s numbers in 2014 (all games):
In Big Ten-only games:
Against Ranked Opponents:
Armstrong has showed the ability to make plays on the ground, as he ranked second among Big Ten quarterbacks with 705 yards rushing. Although Armstrong's playmaking ability on the ground will be utilized, Langsdorf needs Armstrong to develop as a passer. A 53.3 completion percentage in all games needs to go up, and the interceptions — especially in conference play — need to be cut.
Related: 2015 All-America Team
To get a look at how critical Armstrong's development is to Nebraska's 2015 season, let's take a look at Oregon State's offenses under Danny Langsdorf from 2005-13.
Points Per Game
Yards Per Play
Pass Att. Per Game
Passing Yards Per Game
For comparison, since 2008 the Cornhuskers have averaged less than 30 passing attempts per game. Under Riley and Langsdorf at Oregon State from 2005-13, the Beavers never dipped below 30 per game.
There’s no doubt Riley and Langsdorf will adapt to the personnel in place to win games in 2015. However, there’s definitely a shift coming for Nebraska’s offense. How quickly will Armstrong develop in this offense? The career trajectory of quarterbacks shows rushing attempts and yards decrease as the player becomes more comfortable as a passer.
Entering his junior season, Armstrong has 21 career starts. Increasing the efficiency and reducing the turnovers are two areas to watch in 2015. If Armstrong accomplishes both of those goals and adjusts to the new scheme, Nebraska could close the gap on Wisconsin in the West.