LINCOLN — Add quarterback Tommy Armstrong to the list of Nebraska players injured after Saturday’s win over Illinois.
Armstrong missed the first two practices this week with a sprained ankle, coach Mike Riley said. Armstrong wore a walking boot after practice Wednesday. He left the practice field with best friend and wideout Jordan Westerkamp, who Riley has said will likely not play against Indiana because of a back injury. Westerkamp did not walk with any noticeable limp. He said he was “a little sore” as he walked out.
Riley said he expected Armstrong to return to practice by Sunday at the latest and did not expect the quarterback to miss the Indiana game. Also held out of practice Wednesday were I-back Devine Ozigbo (ankle), right guard Tanner Farmer (ankle), right tackle David Knevel (ankle) and tight end Cethan Carter (elbow). Knevel is expected to return for the Indiana game, as is senior wideout Alonzo Moore (shoulder).
Door opens for Hoppes
Carter’s elbow injury — which Riley said would keep the tight end out for at least the Indiana game — means more playing time for junior walk-on Tyler Hoppes.
A Lincoln Southwest graduate who played one season at Wayne State before transferring to NU, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Hoppes has played a few snaps this season already. Senior Sam Cotton said Hoppes will do a good job.
“The biggest thing about him is he’s really athletic,” said Cotton, NU’s No. 1 tight end in Carter’s absence. “Whether it’s tracking down a safety to block him or getting loose in a route. That guy has a lot of athleticism in his arsenal, and I think we’re going to continue to see him grow because he works so hard.”
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Hoppes is a good route runner and pass catcher who is continuing to improve as a blocker.
“We’re going to lean on him a little bit more in that role and then get Sam Cotton going a little bit in the role that Cethan has had,” Langsdorf said. “Trey Foster will take over Sam’s role. We’ve got some guys needing some work in some things they probably haven’t done as much.”
Big test for Blackshirts
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker is already concerned about the challenge facing his defense at Indiana. The Hoosiers, Banker said, have an effective offense that operates at no-huddle pace.
“We’re going to get tested more against Indiana,” Banker said. “They throw the ball up top quite a bit. They’ve got a good pass game … they have three solid receivers, big, tall quarterback and they’re very well balanced. It’s that balance that’ll get you. It’s up to us to take that balance away.”
Riley said he’d like to see Nebraska’s defense work on better tackling — the Huskers struggled in the first half of their win over Illinois — and avoid cut blocks. Cut blocks occur when an offensive player aims below the waist of a defender in an attempt to get him off balance or off his feet.
An ‘unacceptable’ practice
Banker didn’t mince words Wednesday about how his unit had practiced the day before. In fact, Banker said he put together a cut-up of five plays from Tuesday that he showed the team and labeled the film: “Unacceptable.”
“And could have had a lot more,” he said. “Because, like I said, I didn’t think it was a good practice.”
After watching it, Banker said, he asked his players the question: “Who and what do we want to be?”
“I referred back to the offseason, when we started weight training, and guys holding everybody accountable for being on time, working hard,” he said. “And I said, ‘Well, what’s the difference now?’ I said I think we need to all hold each other accountable, and everybody needs to be accountable to one another.”
Trying fast tempo
Riley didn’t say it was coming to NU’s repertoire any time soon, but no-huddle offense was one of the things the team spent time with Wednesday — “primarily because that’s what our defense almost always plays against, but also to see what that might look like offensively for us.”
Riley said he hasn’t used much no-huddle in his past, other than as part of a two-minute offense.
Then Riley flashed back 20-plus years to his time at Southern California as offensive coordinator for John Robinson.
“The most notable time is we opened the Rose Bowl with it back when I was at SC and we were playing Northwestern, and we went right down twice in a row and scored,” he said. “It was pretty neat.”
The Northwestern defense was so hard to crack during that 1995 regular season, especially in preventing big plays, that Riley was thinking of different ways to hit it.
“I asked Coach Robinson the morning of the game, ‘What do you think about starting with our no-huddle?’ ” Riley said. “He said, ‘OK, but if it’s not working, get out of it fast.’ ”
Riley said Nebraska’s two-minute offense is “markedly better” during the season than it was in preseason drills, when the Huskers struggled during scrimmages. Riley said a good two-minute quarterback understands he can throw shorter passes and not necessarily go for the 40-yard throw each time.
Facing the music
How do coaches spend a Saturday during a bye week? Banker said he will try to watch some football — probably from the Big Ten — after getting back from a recruiting trip.
Then, as his wife had reminded him a few minutes earlier, Banker said they will head for a Keith Urban concert Saturday night.
“I try not to necessarily consume myself with football, because we get so much,” he said.
Banker said he does still keep tabs on the Pac-12, just because Riley and so much of the staff came from Oregon State. Plus there will be some Big Ten/Pac-12 bowl matchups down the line.
“I’m always interested in those teams,” Banker said. “I’m just really interested to see now how the league is changing a little bit, and how Washington’s making a push with Chris Petersen at the helm. Being such a quality coach, it’s not surprising.”
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» Husker coaches will be on the road recruiting this weekend, while players get Saturday to watch college football games if they so choose. Cornerback Chris Jones said he wanted to watch Indiana play Ohio State, while Nick Gates said he wanted to watch the biggest games with the best athletes, whichever games those were.
» Punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El said his ability to make guys miss when they’re right at his feet on punt returns comes down to coaching from Keith Williams and instinct.
“Coach Dub always tells us ‘don’t go down,’ so I try not to get tackled. If you have a solid base, the play is still alive. Only you know you can get out of it. If you think it, then act on it.”