Five questions With Nebraska football beat writer Sam McKewon

Sam McKewon covers the Cornhuskers for the Omaha World-Herald.

1. Given the difference between how Nebraska's offense looked the last two weeks when Tommy Armstrong Jr. was on the field and when he wasn't, how important will it be for the Cornhuskers to keep their quarterback upright and in the game, even against a Maryland team that has struggled to score the past two weeks?


Very important, although Armstrong's biggest injury issue right now is his hamstring, and those, according to coach Mike Riley, are mercurial enough to be unpredictable regardless of how well Nebraska protects him. If he's hurt, Nebraska loses, to some degree, its quarterback run game, and has to rely more on its running backs and offensive line.

2. Speaking of Armstrong, how does he rate among the program's best quarterbacks? Would you still put former stars such as Turner Gill and Tommie Frazier ahead of him, based on what the team did when they played?

Armstrong may crack the top ten in Nebraska history, but it's not a slam dunk. The way stats are calculated -- where QBs get credit for throwing a 3-yard forward pass in ways option QBs didn't credit for a five-yard backwards pitch -- have skewed Armstrong's numbers in ways previous Husker greats didn't enjoy. The best quarterback in NU history is Frazier, then a tie between Gill and Eric Crouch and then, after that, it's a fun debate. But as someone who's followed many years of Husker football, I'd put the three above, plus (in no particular order) Jerry Tagge, Vince Ferragamo, David Humm, Steve Taylor, Scott Frost and Zac Taylor ahead of Armstrong, who is tied with Taylor Martinez, in my view. Armstrong and Martinez both could have benefited from better in-team competition than they got in their time at NU.

3. After a disappointing start to his career in Lincoln, has Mike Riley quieted the fan base this season or will anything short of a Big Ten West title be considered another down year for the Cornhuskers?

If Nebraska finishes 10-2, I think pretty much all fans are satisfied with that. The schedule looked good for at least 9 wins, and if Nebraska goes 9-3, and loses to Iowa, I think that'll give some folks pause, but not a ton. Most fans want Riley to succeed. Most fans understand the recruiting waned under Riley's predecessor [Bo Pelini], and that it needs to get better. But Nebraska fans, too, want to win the games Nebraska is "supposed to win," and Iowa generally fits into that. (Even if Iowa is pretty reasonable comparison to where NU is these days.)

4. Do you think this has any chance to be a trap game for Nebraska, given what Maryland has done the past two weeks, or do you think the Cornhuskers will roll as long as Armstrong can stay healthy?

It could be a trap game, yes, but it's Senior Day and Nebraska's pretty motivated to play well on that day for the senior guys and to finish the home schedule undefeated. It comes down, to some degree, to whether Nebraska's OL can push around Maryland's front seven. The Terrapins have to be beat up at this point, after back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State. The Big Ten grind is real, and it takes a lot of depth on the lines to withstand it. Maryland has great recruiters now who will help the Terps build that depth, but they're not quite there yet.

5. For Maryland fans and even media making their first trip to Lincoln on a football Saturday, what's in store, aside from 90,000 fanatics and a sea of red?

You'll really like Nebraska's gameday atmosphere -- although it's going to be cold. Good sight lines, fans are friendly, and it's an easy stadium to walk around and see all the statues, if that's your thing. On the north side of the stadium, there is a memorial for Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, who died this summer in a car accident. It's not far from the Brook Berringer statue. Also check for the inscriptions on the North and West sides of the stadium. Once inside, get a Runza. It's a meat pie with cabbage and spices.