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Steven M. Sipple: Armstrong lives on edge rather nicely

Steven M. Sipple: Armstrong lives on edge rather nicely

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Every so often it smacks you like a jackhammer — the precarious nature of sports.

Think about it as it applies to Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong and the Huskers' 39-38 comeback win against then-No. 7 Michigan State.

Think about the current conversation we're having about Armstrong versus the unpleasant discussion we easily could've been having. We're talking this week about his toughness, leadership and poise. We're discussing his strong play in the fourth quarter this season, his clutch passing.

Now, stop for a moment and think how profoundly different this week's narrative — for both Nebraska as a team and Armstrong as a player — would've been had Michigan State senior cornerback Arjen Colquhoun intercepted Armstrong's pass in the end zone on NU's second-to-last play. Colquhoun had it in his mitts, and dropped it.

That's life. That's sports. But some plays stand out more than others.

If Colquhoun had made the interception, consider the dismal feeling this week around the Nebraska program — heck, around the state. Also, consider the criticism that would've been heaped on Armstrong. And much of it would've been unfair. Such is the nature of the quarterback position.

Instead, in the wake of his late completions under pressure, Armstrong is receiving high praise. Which is precisely what he deserves.

A 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior, Armstrong generally has handled well the transition from Tim Beck's shotgun spread attack to Mike Riley's West Coast system. If Armstrong isn't playing at an All-Big Ten level, he's not far from it, even if he still should work to rein in his natural aggressiveness at times.

His average of 263.6 passing yards per game ranks third in the conference behind Nate Sudfeld of Indiana (278.6) and Connor Cook of Michigan State (267.2). Sudfeld and Cook are seniors with three-plus years of experience in their respective systems.

Armstrong's average of 294.2 yards of total offense leads the Big Ten and ranks 22nd nationally. What's more, he's 19th nationally in completions of 10-plus yards (100) and 16th in passes of 20-plus yards (41) — indicative of his strong arm and aggressive mentality.

Yes, he still makes questionable decisions. But show me a quarterback who doesn't. Plus, it's impossible to ignore Armstrong's fourth-quarter quarterback rating of 148.96, which ranks second among regular league quarterbacks behind only C.J. Beathard of Iowa.

Meanwhile, Cook and Sudfeld are 1-2 in the Big Ten in overall pass efficiency at 149.3 and 146.3, respectively. Beathard is fourth at 135.2, and Armstrong sixth at 129.9. Tommy's completion percentage of 53.9 is significantly lower than the league's top passers.

Cook seems the likely choice for All-Big Ten quarterback, with Beathard perhaps not far behind. Armstrong, though, is in the conversation. But it's easy to imagine a much different conversation. 

THE NO-HUDDLE

TIME MANAGEMENT

Reserve three to four hours: Minnesota (4-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 5 Iowa (9-0, 5-0), 7 p.m. Saturday, BTN: Talk about a prime scouting opportunity for Nebraska fans, who no doubt already have the Hawkeyes' Nov. 27 visit to Lincoln in mind. Plus, there's a decent story line (other than Iowa's four-spot rise in the playoff rankings): Iowa players will be motivated by Minnesota's 51-14 triumph last season in Minneapolis, where the Gophers outrushed the Hawkeyes 291-84. "We definitely got beat bad last year, so we've got to focus on them," said fullback Macon Plewa, looking forward to this week's 7 p.m. kickoff. "Night games at Kinnick (Stadium) are special, especially against a rival like that. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

A decent waste of time: Michigan (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 0-5), 2:30 p.m., ABC: Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden said this week he predicted Michigan State's loss to Nebraska based on a "feeling." The Huskers' win obviously created a good feeling for the Wolverines, as it opened the door a bit for their hopes of winning the league's East Division. First things first, though. For one thing, Michigan needs Ohio State to defeat Michigan State on Nov. 21. Plus, Indiana is pesky. Just ask Iowa. Or Michigan State. Or Ohio State. The Hoosiers are just good enough to ruin somebody's season.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

An East Coast theme seems appropriate this week, what with the Huskers headed to New Jersey. So how about Jersey Disco Fries? Check out the recipe at food.com. Let's see … steak fries covered in chicken gravy and cheese. Tell me you're not intrigued.

LET'S NOT OVERTHINK THIS

You can second-guess Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf's play calls in certain situations until you're red in the face. But you can't deny the work that Langsdorf and Mike Riley have done in transitioning from Tim Beck's spread-option system to a multiple pro-style attack. NU ranks second in the Big Ten in yards per play (6.2) behind only Ohio State. The Husker offense went toe-to-toe with Michigan State's. That's saying something.

THUMBS UP, DOWN

Thumbs up to Nebraska senior offensive tackle Alex Lewis. He obviously has absorbed his share of harsh criticism this season in traditional and social media. Even so, a conscientious reader points out that Lewis (along with other teammates) made it a point Saturday night to jog to the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium to salute and wave "thanks" to the student sections.

Thumbs down to Tim Beckman. I hate to pile on. The coach is out of work. But if even parts of a University of Illinois-commissioned independent investigation are true, then Beckman is, as one Chicago newspaper columnist suggested, "one sick puppy." To wit: According to the investigation by a Chicago law firm, two physicians confronted Beckman after he told a player who was being stabilized for a neck injury to turn his head to look at Beckman. The word pathetic comes to mind.

Five to go: Let's do the Heisman Trophy re-shuffle. Alabama shut down LSU running back Leonard Fournette last week, meaning a new name sits atop USA TODAY's weekly Heisman survey. Here are the top five: 

1. Derrick Henry, running back, Alabama. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound junior has averaged 173.6 rushing yards in five games against opponents ranked at the time.

2. Fournette. Don't count him out. But the 6-1, 230-pound sophomore drops a notch after rushing for just 31 yards on 19 carries in a 30-16 loss to the Tide.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio State. The hard-nosed junior ranks sixth nationally with 1,244 rushing yards.

4. Corey Coleman, wide receiver, Baylor. The last wide receiver to win the Heisman? Desmond Howard of Michigan in 1991.

5. Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Clemson. A true sophomore, Watson has history on his side: Since 2000, quarterbacks have won the Heisman 13 times, including the last five.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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