BYU provides measuring stick for Nebraska to start Riley era
Sep. 04, 2015
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska certainly isn't easing into the Mike Riley era.
The Cornhuskers face their most challenging opener in more than a decade when BYU visits Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
"That part of it is going to be really good for us," Riley said. "This is going to be a really good football team that always plays with a lot of confidence. We'll find out a lot about our team through this game."
Tommy Armstrong Jr. is entering his third season as starting quarterback, but he'll be operating a new offense that blends the pro-style system and some facets of the spread/zone-read option that the previous coaching staff used. BYU will counter with an experienced 3-4 defense that loves to blitz.
"Offensively, it'll be interesting," Riley said. "I can't see us being one thing dominant all the time, running the ball all the time. We need variety in the running game and some success with some big chunks down the field and then some versatility on where the quarterback throws the ball."
Nebraska's defense will be tested by dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, who was gaining traction as a Heisman Trophy candidate before he broke his left leg last October.
"Having a returning quarterback gives you your best chance early in the season, I think," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We have the luxury of knowing exactly who we have, and that establishes an identity."
The possibility of Hill running exists on almost every play, and when he throws, he has big targets in 6-foot-6 Mitch Mathews and Nick Kurtz.
"They're going to be looking to get them the ball because, obviously, they're taller than us," said Daniel Davie, who along with fellow cornerbacks Jonathan Rose and Josh Kalu each give up 5 inches to the so-called 'Twin Towers.' "There'll be a lot of jump-ball situations. As long as we defensively win those one-on-one battles, we should be fine."
Nebraska, 9-4 last season, typically opens against light competition. The Cougars were 8-5 last season and went to a bowl for the 10th straight year. They also had their highest-scoring team since 2001, and their defense was among the best in the nation against the run.
"BYU is going to be no cakewalk," receiver Jordan Westerkamp said. "We're going to have to be playing our 'A' game."
Things to watch as the Riley era begins at Nebraska:
WHO'S PLAYING, WHO'S NOT? Nebraska's defense takes a hit with middle linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey and cornerback Jonathan Rose among five players suspended for the game. Three backups also will sit: tight end Cethan Carter, defensive end Joe Keels and offensive lineman Robby Painter. Luke Gifford will start in place of Rose-Ivey and Josh Kalu at right cornerback.
BYU also was to suspend a number of players for their roles in the brawl with Memphis at the Miami Beach Bowl, but coach Bronco Mendenhall has not identified which players would sit.
NEWBY NEXT MAN UP: Nebraska's Terrell Newby, a third-stringer a year ago, will make his first start as the successor to three-time 1,000-yard rusher Ameer Abdullah. Newby has totaled 595 yards over 26 career games.
PUNTING ADVENTURES: New Zealander Jonny Linehan, nicknamed "Jonny Rugby" for being the hero of BYU's national champion rugby team, or Rhett Almond will handle the punting for the Cougars. Whoever it is will be punting for the first time in a college game.
Riley expects it'll be challenging returning rugby-style kicks. Westerkamp will be the Huskers' return man after holding the job in 2013. Last year's electrifying returner, De'Mornay Pierson-El, is out until October with a foot injury.
ARMSTRONG'S ARM: Armstrong is a 53-percent career passer who has thrown 31 TDs against 20 interceptions in 22 games, and he struggled the first couple weeks of preseason practice. Riley said Armstrong improved the last two weeks, completed more long passes and grew in confidence.
TOUGH OPENER, AGAIN: BYU is starting a season against an opponent from a Power Five conference for the ninth time in 11 years. The Cougars are 5-3 in those openers. This is the first time BYU and Nebraska have met in football.