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Nebraska vs. Miami, 9.19.15

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong throws an interception during the third quarter Saturday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong once again made a strong statement with his performance Saturday, even considering his costly late interception.

The junior also continued to show growth as a leader. He perhaps made the strongest verbal statement of anyone, coaches included, during postgame interviews following a 36-33 overtime loss at Miami. 

"We still got a lot to learn — defensivewise, offensivewise," he said. "We still got guys that have to realize we can't take things for granted. We have to prepare well, have to come out and have a purpose ..."

Have a purpose. Play with urgency. It's one thing for a coach to express those sentiments to players. The words tend to resonate more loudly when spoken by a player, especially one as respected as Armstrong.

His improvement is one of the main reasons Nebraska, despite its 1-2 start, should still be considered a leading threat to capture the Big Ten West Division — in part because it's a so-so division, but also because the Huskers have shown enough strong play.

It helps greatly that four of Nebraska's toughest remaining games (Wisconsin, upstart Northwestern, Michigan State and surprising Iowa) are in Lincoln. Minnesota's anemic offense, due largely to a banged-up line, is holding back the Gophers and making the Huskers' Oct. 17 trip to Minneapolis appear much more manageable.

Nebraska also has proved to have enough talent to win the division. The BTN crew, most notably veteran analyst Howard Griffith, spoke highly of NU's talent level in mid-August after watching practices. Let's face it, lack of talent didn't keep the Huskers from defeating BYU or Miami. It was more a lack of focus and/or execution.

To wit: Nebraska would've defeated BYU had it not botched its Hail Mary defense. And there was no excuse for the Huskers' lackadaisical play through most of three quarters Saturday.

* Remember all the August chatter about how Nebraska's new defensive scheme would allow interior linemen greater freedom to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield? We're waiting. Blackshirt-wearing veterans Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine and Kevin Williams have yet to record a sack and have one tackle for loss between them.

* I've always enjoyed interviews with former Nebraska men's basketball coach Doc Sadler. We typically talk hoops first, then he almost always wants to talk football — a lot about football.

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Sadler, now the head basketball coach at Southern Miss, plans to attend Saturday's football game in Lincoln. During his time at Nebraska (2006-12), he attended almost all the Husker football games, watching from the press box with former NU assistants Milt Tenopir and the late John Melton, among others.

"They watched the game through different eyes," Sadler said Sunday. "It's just kind of neat how they could call the plays from up there even though they hadn't coached the game in several years."

Sadler has a football background. His father was a football coach for several years for the Greenwood (Arkansas) High School Fightin' Bulldogs. Doc never considered coaching football, he said, but he was a quarterback for Greenwood, running its triple-option veer attack.

"If you go back and look, you'll even see I was all-state," he said. "But I was never all that good."

He must have been pretty good. He's a bulldog of a competitor. And he clearly loves the game.

* Sadler, of course, pays close attention to Southern Miss football and the challenging job of its third-year head coach, Todd Monken.

"Todd took over a mess," Sadler said. "The latter part of last year, I thought they made a lot of improvement until they got their quarterback (Nick Mullens) hurt. But he's back. As football coaches like to say, I think the process is going well for them right now.

"They added some transfers. The defense is better. They're fun to watch."

* As of now, it appears Nebraska's 1995 national championship team will be honored Oct. 24, when the Huskers play Northwestern. Sounds good. But what sounds better is having the shebang for the Nov. 7 home game against Michigan State.

Remember the energy last Sept. 20 at Memorial Stadium, when the 1994 national champions were honored the night of Nebraska's win against Miami?  No disrespect to Northwestern — it's off to a great start this season — but there's a much better chance of that energy being matched with Sparty in town.

Looks like an opportunity lost.

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

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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