When Tommy Armstrong, Jr.’s head hit the turf in Columbus, Ohio, last Saturday night and his body lay motionless for a few moments, silence wasn’t just isolated to the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those watching and listening, Husker and college football fans alike, waited for any positive sign.
They received one once Armstrong was immobilized: a thumbs-up. While he was rushed to a nearby medical facility and eventually returned to the stadium, the show had to go on without him.
This wasn’t a good thing, and it won’t be if he is unable to play moving forward.
Many times other pundits and I have said that this team goes as far as Armstrong goes. Despite not being selected a captain, he has kept true to his word and been a leader for this team. Nebraska’s options behind him are pretty shocking for a major program in a Power Five conference.
It’s time to review how the Huskers got here.
Ryker Fyfe being No. 2 on the 2016 Nebraska depth chart can be directly traced to the recruiting of former head coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck. If you look back just four years, you can see where things started going wrong.
In 2012, Armstrong came into the picture as the only quarterback taken that cycle. On the roster, there were two juniors: starter Taylor Martinez and Ron Kellogg III, a walk-on who eventually earned his scholarship. The other signal-callers were Armstrong, Fyfe, Tyson Brokemeier, Bronson Marsh and Evan Williams. Of those five, one held a scholarship. You know who it was.
Only No. 4 eventually challenged Martinez, and that wasn’t until 44 games into his career. Who else would come and go while these two got the lion’s share of the reps?
In 2013, Johnny Stanton came aboard. He only seemed to regress during his time at Nebraska and transferred to UNLV, where he has since been supplanted by Dalton Sneed. Current “emergency quarterback” Zack Darlington and A.J. Bush were picked up in 2014.
Due to head trauma Darlington suffered in his first game as a high school senior, it’s doubtful he’ll be seen under center unless Fyfe goes down (there’s a twist to that, so wait for it). Bush never reached any higher than third on the depth chart and transferred to Iowa Western Community College.
The Huskers are in a precarious position when it comes to quarterbacks. What happens if Armstrong can’t go against Minnesota or until he can go at all? Here are Mike Riley’s options:
Ryker Fyfe — Fyfe is the first guy to get the call when Armstrong needs a replacement. What you saw against Ohio State is what you get with him. He sidearms throws and makes poor decisions. Quite honestly how he is on an FBS roster amazes me.
I don’t know what Tim Beck saw in him. Then again, I don’t know what Urban Meyer sees in Beck aside from the “You’re from Ohio? Hey, me too!” thing that seems to be happening in coaching these days, but I digress.
To make matters worse, it’s already well-documented how banged up Nebraska’s offensive line is. I question Fyfe’s ability behind a healthy one. When he doesn’t have time to think, it’s just… ugh.
Zack Darlington — About that twist. Darlington is technically a slot receiver who doubles as an emergency quarterback. That’s the position tag directly from Riley’s mouth. This should help you understand how dire the situation is getting.
Patrick O’Brien — When it comes to the guy with the highest ceiling, POB is your guy. When it comes to a player who’s still a true freshman and after nine games, you’d be pulling a redshirt along with shredding a year of eligibility, POB is also your guy.
I’ll be dead honest: If you put a gun to my head and told me I had to choose between putting Fyfe in for the rest of the season or pull O’Brien’s redshirt if it meant winning more games, I’d ask for the newbie. He makes mistakes, but he has better mechanics than anyone else, and if Nebraska’s wide receivers can snag some of the bombs Armstrong puts up, conventional wisdom dictates that O’Brien can’t be much worse.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The 2016 quarterback depth chart is rank, and I don’t blame it on the guys listed on it. That’d be silly. The guys that put them there are the culprits.
The only thing Riley and Husker fans can do right now is simply accept that this is what they have to work with and hope Armstrong can go for as many games, halves, quarters or even plays as possible. That’s likely the only way Nebraska pulls out wins unless Danny Langsdorf gets really creative.
Wildcat formation, anyone?