Every Nebraska Cornhusker fan is familiar with the Good Tommy/Bad Tommy Armstrong Phenomenon by this point. The latter came to play — likely due to injury — during the Huskers’ 27-22 win over Indiana on Saturday, but something happened that didn’t during all of 2015.
The Big Red won this time.
Let me back up for a second, because this really needs to be fleshed out to be properly appreciated.
During the bye week, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said that Armstrong, Jr. — who was in a walking boot for a portion of the time — wouldn’t play if there was a game last week. Crisis averted.
I don’t believe No. 4 was 100-percent healthy against Indiana — a statement which goes beyond his noticeable limp in the postgame press conference. He rarely if ever planted his feet for a throw during the game, constantly throwing off his back hoof. In some cases, he threw across his body and launched YOLOBombs — oh yes, there were YOLOBombs.
This was classic Bad Tommy whether he could help it or not. A 34-percent completion rating and two picks with the only highlight of his day being a 72-yard touchdown served up for Stanley Morgan, Jr.
However, the game did not ride on the shoulders of Armstrong. The Husker offense was able to churn out 10 early points thanks to kicker Drew Brown and running back Terrell Newby.
Aside from that aforementioned 72-yard scamper by Morgan, another field goal by Brown created the only other offensive points the Huskers put on the board.
I’ve gone into detail about how the Blackshirts saved the day, but you must understand where I am going with this.
Armstrong may have had a bad day, easily his worst of the season. Let’s admit it, he was due, especially if injured. Nebraska won with “Bad Tommy.” This didn’t happen last year. In 2015, Nebraska would’ve fallen 25-24 or in some heart-breaking fashion similar to Illinois’ 14-13 victory over the Huskers last season.
Keep in mind that three walk-ons man a battered offensive line. Two studs were missing in wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and tight end Cethan Carter. To be frank, that this offensive paved the way for a 100-plus yard day for Newby and kept the Indiana pass rush away from its quarterback was a pleasant surprise.
Yet, it did.
I’m not going to suggest that this level of performance will cut it against Wisconsin or Ohio State. It won’t. However, for Armstrong to struggle as much as he did over the course of the game and still walk out a winner is a major step forward for this squad.
That’s the kind of play that separates an eight-win team from a double-digit-win team.
The good news is that a Purdue team sans Darrell Hazell is coming to town with former Nebraska linebackers coach Ross Els as its defensive coordinator. The Boilermakers may be emotionally tattered or rallying around the idea that they must not simply survive, but win.
Unfortunately, when a team is sporting the 108th-ranked scoring defense in the country, even another appearance by Bad Tommy might not be able to help them.