Questions from the Other Side: Nebraska football beat writer Brett Nierengarten

Jack White

For this weekly column, the Minnesota Daily will interview someone knowledgeable about Minnesota’s next opponent. Brett Nierengarten, the senior sports editor for the Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska’s student newspaper, was interviewed this week.

Nierengarten has been covering Nebraska football for two years.

What does Tommy Armstrong add to this team that maybe Ryker Fyfe or another quarterback can’t do?

I think the biggest thing that [Armstrong] brings obviously is general leadership. I think that’s the big thing outside of the obvious of him being better, faster, has a better arm, [and a] better understanding of the offense. He’s a lot better of a quarterback … But I think to be more specific than that, like I said, he’s really the emotional leader of this team. He’s by far one of the most respected guys on the team. To see him go down and have him not be there, it kind of changes things for them. It just takes away the energy. The same thing happened when Ryker Fyfe came in last season against Purdue. It’s just not the same energy. They’re just not the same team without him. I think that has a lot to with his leadership and the way he commands the huddle. In addition to the fact that he is a much better athlete and has a much better arm than Ryker Fyfe as well.

What do you think has contributed most to Nebraska’s two-game losing streak?

Well, a lot of it is who they play. Obviously they didn’t have to play anyone then they came in and had to play Wisconsin and Ohio State. But I think the biggest thing: Wisconsin, there weren’t really any big issues in that game. They just took a good football team to overtime and got beat by them. They played a better football team on the road. There’s really nothing there, but the biggest thing against Ohio State was just really the lack, I don’t want to say a lack of talent compared to Ohio State, but Ohio State is just better than them. [Nebraska] looked like they didn’t even belong on the same field so it was a complete reversal. This defense wasn’t very good last year. They started playing pretty well this year and all of a sudden everything just reverted back to last season. They were missing coverages; they were missing tackles in the backfield. They just couldn’t keep up with the speed of Ohio State, which is something that we saw as a problem last year but never really this year.

How does Mike Riley compare as a coach to Bo Pelini?

He’s a lot nicer. He’s a lot better with the media. I think Mike Riley is the kind of guy you want in the situation they’re in now coming off what just happened [against] Ohio State on that two-game losing streak. He didn’t yell, he didn’t scream. He came in to the press conference afterward and the first thing he says is, ‘I don’t know what happened, but it’s all of our fault. We need to get better, we will get better.’ I think his presence is much more reassuring than Bo Pelini’s. Bo Pelini, after the loss to Iowa, a game they probably shouldn’t have [lost] a couple years ago, he got mad, he got agitated, said in his press conference that, ‘If they want to fire me, they can fire me.’ Obviously that’s not the kind of leadership you want in a difficult situation, but Mike Riley is very well-composed, very aware of the situation he’s in, the magnitude of what just happened. Instead of yelling and screaming, pointing out people to blame, he said, ‘It’s a problem, we’ll fix the problem.’ He was well-contained, very well-composed, and just the kind of guy you want to be in that situation, as opposed to someone like Bo Pelini.

How do you think the Cornhuskers can go about bouncing back from this two-game losing streak?

I think it will be nice for them to come back home. I mean both games were on the road. That obviously makes it more difficult when you’re on a flight back to Columbus and you have to think about what you did. So I think going back home will help and I think they really just need to recommit to running the football, which is tough cause they’ve had a lot of injuries on the offensive line. They have two starters [on the offensive line] who are questionable on Saturday. But especially if Ryker Fyfe can play, they need to commit to running the football and if they can run the football against Minnesota, whose, as you know, rush defense is pretty good, I think that will set the tone.

How do you think the Gophers and Huskers stack up against each other?

I think they’re pretty similar. I think not a lot of people in the country or the Big Ten would acknowledge how similar they are because Nebraska had that 7-0 start and Minnesota opened up their Big Ten season with two losses, and people don’t really think of Minnesota and Nebraska as two teams that compare, but when you really look at it, you see that talent-wise, [they] are pretty much the same. We talked about Tommy Armstrong already, but especially if Tommy Armstrong doesn’t play, then that gives Minnesota the edge on offense and maybe Nebraska a little bit on defense, but Minnesota has a pretty good defense and Nebraska just gave up 62 points on defense so I really think there’s not much of a gap.

How have you seen the death of Sam Foltz impact the team and people around campus?

It’s everywhere. Especially considering, Sam Foltz, on paper, he’s a punter who died, but he kind of embodied the entire ideal of what Nebraska football was. He’s from small-town Nebraska. He had offers to play receiver and safety at some FCS schools and DII schools, and he said, ‘No, I’m gonna walk on to Nebraska.’ Officially walked on as a wide out, wasn’t good enough. They figured out he was a really good punter, switched him to punter and he completely embraced his role as a punter, which everyone loved. That’s exactly what you want from a player. We’ll do anything for the team to win, we’ll do anything to help kind of guy. So I think it’s really shaken people more than just about anybody on the team could’ve possibly. I know it’s difficult to speculate what you would think if this guy on the team died, but he had such an impact on that team being from Nebraska, being a walk-on, being a small-town kid, was always in the community, was always volunteering, was by most accounts, one of the hardest workers on the team.

What do you think of the team’s potential for the rest of the way?

For Nebraska? I mean I think they can still finish 10-2, which is tough to see right now after getting blasted by Ohio State. Minnesota should be a tough game, but it’s winnable, Maryland is still winnable, Iowa is still winnable. I’m not sure at this point that that will happen, but I can still see this team going 10-2. I’m not sure they will, but it’s not ridiculous to think that they can go 10-2 and go to a New Year’s Eve bowl game.

Speed Round Questions

Tommy Armstrong as a quarterback on a scale from 1-10?

Seven.

Number of wins Nebraska gets?

Nine.

Will Nebraska rush for more than 150 yards against the Gophers?

No.

Nebraska’s best offensive player?

Jordan Westerkamp.

Nebraska’s best defensive player?

Carlos Davis.

Big Ten Player of the Year?

J.T. Barrett.

Who do you think will win the Big Ten Championship?

Michigan.

Heisman winner?

Lamar Jackson.

National Championship?

Alabama.

Score prediction for the Minnesota-Nebraska game?

17-13 Minnesota.