Dienhart: Here's a look back at Nebraska's 2015 season
The excitement that surrounded the arrival of Mike Riley from Oregon State evaporated quickly in the wake of myriad close losses that caused stomachs to turn on an almost weekly basis across the state. Each Saturday seemingly brought another round of misery, as iffy decisions, a lack of execution and personnel shortcomings conspired to sully Riley’s debut.
Still, despite a 5-7 record, the Huskers found their way into a bowl thanks to a good APR and the fact there weren’t enough 6-6 teams to fill the 80 bowl slots. It’s one last chance to end 2015 on an up-note after Nebraska suffered its first losing record since 2007 and endured four home losses for the first time since 1961.
Issues remain along the offensive line, while QB Tommy Armstrong still sprinkles in bouts of poor decision-making with an otherwise ample package of skills that saw the Husker attack rank No. 3 in the league in scoring (32.3 ppg) and No. 2 overall (442.5 ypg). The defense has promise along the front seven but was often clueless when it came to stopping the pass, ranking 13th in the Big Ten (288.2 ypg) with a league-low eight interceptions. The defense was just 10th overall (401.6 ypg).
Record: 5-7 overall; 3-5 Big Ten/4th West
Bowl: Foster Farms vs. UCLA
High point: Coming off a brutal 55-45 loss at Purdue, the worst team in the league, Nebraska was 3-6 and looked hopeless. How would the Huskers rebound the next week for a visit from unbeaten Michigan State, which ranked No. 7? Just fine, thank you. Nebraska stunned the Spartans, 39-38. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong drove the Huskers 91 yards in the final minute, culminating with a 30-yard game-winning TD pass with 17 seconds left to Brandon Reilly, who went out of bounds before returning to make the scoring grab. That should have made Reilly ineligible. But officials ruled Reilly was forced out by MSU corner Jermaine Edmondson. Was the call debatable? Yes, people are still debating it to this day. But the play stood and Nebraska got a much-need triumph—and hope.
Low point: There are too many to count. There was the 14-13 loss at Illinois marked by poor decision-making, a 23-21 defeat on a last-second field goal at Wisconsin, a 36-33 overtime setback at Miami after roaring back from a 23-point deficit and a mind-numbing 55-45 loss at Purdue in which the Huskers had five turnovers. But no defeat was more agonizing than the 33-28 loss on a 42-yard Hail Mary vs. BYU in the opener. That set the tone for what was one of the most painful seasons in Nebraska football annals.
Offensive MVP: WR Jordan Westerkamp. A second-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and media, he caught 63 passes for 874 yards and seven TDs. The junior is deft at getting open. And when the ball is delivered, he makes the catch.
Defensive MVP: T Maliek Collins. Stats do not measure the impact for the second-team All-Big Ten pick by the coaches. The massive junior is a run-stuffer in the interior who often commands a double-team block. And that frees teammates to make plays. Collins will be a high draft pick.
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