Husker notes: Jordan Westerkamp likely to return against Wisconsin
LINCOLN — Nebraska expects to get back receiver Jordan Westerkamp this week, which quarterback Tommy Armstrong said should be a big help to the offense.
The senior hurt his back against Illinois and missed the last two games.
“I saw him lifting yesterday, and I kind of gave him a thumbs-up, and he was excited about it,” Armstrong said. “He’s excited about just getting out there and doing stuff with us and just being part of the team again.”
Coach Mike Riley said it was about midway through last week when he felt good about Westerkamp possibly being ready for the Wisconsin game.
“The way he was running, moving, cutting, all that, it looked like that to me,” Riley said.
Brandon Reilly played in the slot last week for Westerkamp, who has 142 career receptions, 17 touchdowns and 2,176 receiving yards. Nebraska rarely has had Westerkamp, Reilly, Alonzo Moore, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan healthy at the same time this season.
Riley said tight end Cethan Carter is still recovering from an elbow injury suffered in the Illinois game and won’t play at Wisconsin.
Riley’s review of Purdue game
Once again Monday, Riley gave his review of the previous game, this time a 27-14 win over Purdue. It was not one of Riley’s more glowing reports.
» The offense, Riley said, had 13 explosive plays — which is good — but they were so “sporadic” that it was hard to notice them. NU’s first-down run efficiency was poor, he said. Among offensive players, Riley said Morgan and running back Terrell Newby played well. Armstrong’s one interception, Riley said, was not a result of a bad read — Reilly was open on a post route — but an incorrectly thrown ball, which landed right in the hands of a Purdue linebacker.
“He threw the ball pretty flat … and it needed a little bit more air,” Riley said.
» NU’s defense gave up two long pass plays — including an 88-yard touchdown that Riley said was “totally unnecessary.”
“With the coverage that we were in, should’ve been an interception, and should’ve been all over that route, and we gave up a big play,” Riley said of the 88-yard score.
Among defenders, Riley singled out linebackers Josh Banderas and Dedrick Young, plus defensive linemen Ross Dzuris, Freedom Akinmoladun and Mick Stoltenberg for their strong play. Banderas, Riley said, has also joined NU’s special teams units and does well there.
» On special teams, Riley said Banderas, Luke McNitt, JoJo Domann, Brad Simpson, Chris Weber and Boaz Joseph played well. Riley also said linebacker Mohamed Barry made his first good play.
“Mohamed Barry made a tackle, and I’ve been waiting for him to kind of come out because he’s an explosive, good athlete,” Riley said. “Hasn’t done much up until last week, made a good play, and I’m glad to see that.”
Linemen playing through it
Riley would like to have the starting five on the offensive line as he had earlier in the season — left tackle Nick Gates, left guard Samuel Hahn, center Dylan Utter, right guard Tanner Farmer and right tackle David Knevel. Whether NU can roll out that line at Wisconsin depends on the health of Gates and Knevel, who are battling ankle injuries. Gates has played through two straight games with his injury. Knevel has left the last three games with his.
“How healthy they can get in a week will be important,” Riley said. “As you know, Nick Gates is hobbled. I really admire Nick for having played that last game because we contemplated not playing right up to the morning of the game. But he wanted to play and kind of battled through it. David Knevel has been off and on in the games and out of the games for I think three weeks now. I admire how he’s gone through it.”
Utter has been impressed by his teammates’ toughness.
“They always preach to us about grit and stuff like that, but as offensive line, you never want to let your teammates down, and I think that kind of fuels their fire,” Utter said. “If they can go, they’ll go, so they want to help us out as much as they can.”
Nebraska’s top two backup linemen are senior Corey Whitaker and sophomore Cole Conrad.
Freshman UW QB ‘poised’
Nebraska will see a different Wisconsin quarterback after Joel Stave started the previous three Husker-Badger matchups.
Riley said poise is one of the things that catches his attention about Alex Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman left-hander from West Chester, Pennsylvania.
“He is, I think, beyond his years that way,” Riley said. “You would not know that he is a freshman quarterback. And I like his arm, too. He looks very accurate, and he’s unfazed by the bigness of what he’s in.”
Both Hornibrook and Bart Houston have taken snaps for the Badgers. Hornibrook has thrown for 877 yards and five touchdowns while completing 56.5 percent of his passes.
Wisconsin will be without its leading tackler against Nebraska after announcing Monday that linebacker Jack Cichy was done for the season.
Cichy suffered a torn pectoral muscle just before halftime at Iowa on Saturday. The junior returned in the second half before leaving in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin only recently got back linebacker Vince Biegel from a foot injury and lost Chris Orr for the season in September. Cichy had 60 tackles through seven games.
Wisconsin also will be without nose tackle Olive Sagapolu against the Huskers. Sagapolu also missed the Iowa game with a right arm injury.