Nov. 28, 2016
Nebraska Cornhuskers: 2016 Season in Review (Offense)
The Nebraska Cornhuskers finished the 2016 regular season with a (9-3, 6-3) record in the Big Ten. During Mike Riley's second year as head coach, the Huskers saw a four game improvement. However, the Huskers might not have been as good as last year's team. Make no mistake, the Huskers had their chances to become an elite team in the conference. Yet, they fell short in their three biggest games.
Additionally, it's not always the outcome on the field that people must look at. Sometimes, you have to look at the product itself. Therefore, the Huskers were failures against the toughest competition down the stretch. For example, Nebraska played like an undefeated team against Wisconsin. They competed and just fell short in overtime. There was no resemblance of that team in the losses to Ohio State and Iowa.
They lost 3 of their last 5 games to finish the season. The Huskers were outscored 126 to 65 in November and totaled 13 points in the final two defeats.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2016 Season Breakdown: The Offense
The Nebraska offense was dreadful in 2016. The coaching staff was supposed to reinvigorate the entire unit. Instead, the Huskers took a major step back this season. First of all, the Huskers averaged 26.8 points per game. They also had the No. 75 scoring offense in the country. In 2014, the Huskers averaged 37.8 points per game. During Riley's first season, the Huskers averaged 32.8. Therefore, the Huskers' scoring offense has dropped 11 points per game in two seasons.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. was due to have his best season yet. The senior quarterback came into the season with 53 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions. Armstrong also came into the season never completing over 55 percent of his passes. However, his final season supposed to be his most efficient in the passing game. Instead, Armstrong regressed. He completed 151-of-294 pass attempts for 2,180 yards. He added 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. These were the lowest numbers since his freshman season. Armstrong also gained 512 yards on 113 rushing attempts. He scored eight touchdowns to lead the Huskers.
Armstrong had a few signature moments this season. The first one came during the game-winning 34 yard touchdown run against Oregon. He also scored a game-winning touchdown against the Minnesota Gophers. Unfortunately, the play led to a hamstring injury that Armstrong dealt with in the season finale.[Tommy Armstrong Jr. 34-Yard TD Run vs. Oregon]
Once again, Armstrong was forced to miss a game due to the injury. This time, Ryker Fyfe stepped with a flawless performance on Senior Day. During his second career start with the Huskers, Fyfe completed 23-of-37 for 220 yards and one touchdown pass. He led the Huskers to a 28-7 win over Maryland. Clearly, Fyfe was better as a starter than as an in-game replacement. He only completed 5-of-18 passes, including an interception in the loss to Ohio State.
The Huskers planned to be consistent with the ground attack in 2016. They averaged 41.2 rushing attempts per game. However, they only averaged 4.3 yards per carry. The combination of Devine Ozigbo and Terrell Newby was set to become a dynamic duo. For a time, they seemed to be hitting a nice stride. Yet, the running attack never came through fruition. The lack of big plays was a major reason for the scoring output.
Terrell Newby led the team with 864 yards on 181 carries. He also scored eight total touchdowns (7 rushing). He scored three touchdowns in the win over Maryland. Newby also had back to back 100-yard games against Illinois and Indiana, but never reached the century mark again. Newby had four games with over 20 rushing attempts. He also had four games with 10 or fewer rushing attempts. Throughout the season, Newby ran hard and definitely played his best football as a senior. His signature play could have been the 63-yard touchdown run against Illinois.[Terrell Newby 63-Yard Rushing TD vs. Illinois]
Ozigbo suffered through injuries, and never built on his strong start to the season. He finished the year with 90 carries for 346 yards and five touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns came in September. In fact, Ozigbo gained 63 yards in the final two months of the season. Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon combined for 162 yards on 57 carries. Bryant also scored two touchdowns, becoming the No. 2 I-back for the Huskers in the last month of the season.
The Nebraska wide receivers were set to become the greatest unit in the history of the program. The excitement during the preseason was warranted. However, the receivers never made the impact everybody thought would happen in 2016. First of all, injuries hurt the continuity of the Huskers. Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp each missed games. Furthermore, tight end Cethan Carter was forced to the sideline with an elbow injury. In all, the wide receivers caught 12 touchdown passes. The tight ends caught two touchdown passes. And the running backs caught two touchdown passes.
Westerkamp led the the Huskers with 38 receptions for 528 yards and five touchdowns. It was his worst output since his sophomore season. Westerkamp also averaged a career-low 13.8 yards per catch this season. Despite the limited opportunities, Westerkamp plenty of big plays for the Huskers. He caught three passes for 62 yards during the overtime loss to Wisconsin. Westerkamp also had a four-catch, 105-yard and two touchdown performance against Wyoming. His season high eight receptions came during a win over Maryland.
Moore averaged 18.8 yards per catch on 20 receptions. He was headed for a huge season, but Moore only made an impact in seven games due to injuries. He scored two touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. However, Moore never reached pay dirt again.
Surprisingly, Brandon Reilly didn't record a touchdown for the Huskers in 2016. Reilly did have 17 catches for 314 yards, but his early season suspension seemed to hurt productivity throughout the season. For example, Reilly amassed 40 catches for 754 yards and four touchdowns in 2015. Clearly, the Nebraska offense was more explosive last season. Thus, Reilly's inability to make a major impact on deep throws was the difference between a good season and a bad season.
Sophomore Stanley Morgan Jr. had a huge jump in production. Morgan was second on the team with 30 catches for 425 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, De'Mornay Pierson-El added 14 receptions and one touchdown. They'll return as the Huskers' leading receivers next season.
Overall, the receivers blocked extremely well. They entire unit played physical football. Therefore, a lot of the big runs came during excellent blocking from the wide receivers. Still, it's something the offense can build on next season.
The offensive line suffered many setbacks throughout the season. Injuries depleted the depth. Therefore, the running game had a few setbacks in their biggest games. They also gave up 11 sacks this year. Armstrong was able to avoid the rush plenty of times. He was only sacked six times this year. Meanwhile, Fyfe was taken down five times with only one start and some back up duty. The line helped Newby become the No. 10 rusher in the Big Ten. However, the Huskers ended the regular season as the No. 63 rushing attack in college football. Overall, the Huskers averaged 178 yards per game, while scoring 23 rushing touchdowns. Nebraska also suffered 58 tackles for a loss. They were tied for No. 21 in that department. Therefore, the offensive line played well when they weren't overmatched.
The Huskers were also strong in the turnover department. They were tied for 14th with 13 turnovers. Overall, the Huskers saw Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan lose fewer turnovers. They lost both games to the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes. They didn't get a chance to face the Wolverines, but did throw two interceptions in the loss to Wisconsin.[Sojourn Shelton Interception vs. Nebraska]
The Huskers still have a Bowl game to play. However, they won't have a destination until after championship week. They still have a chance to earn their 10th win of the season. The Huskers haven't won 10 games in a season since 2012.