Across enemy lines: Q & A with The Daily Nebraskan senior sports editor Brett D. Nierengarten

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Karolina Marczewski

Illinois’ Eric Finney (14) tackles Nebraska’s Jordan Westerkamp (1) during the game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Oct 3, 2015. The Illini won 14-13.

By The Daily Illini sports staff

Editor’s Note: Every week The Daily Illini football staff will chat with a sports reporter from the opposing team. This week, our staff chatted with The Daily Nebraskan’s senior sports editor, Brett D. Nierengarten 

The Daily Illini: Is there a grudge still lingering from last year’s game?

Brett D. Nierengarten: I wouldn’t say there is a grudge specifically from the Illinois game, but there’s a grudge about the way all of last season went. The entire team has been on a mission this season to prove that 2015 was a fluke. At Nebraska, it’s unacceptable to lose to Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois, especially not all in the same season.

DI: Who on Illinois are you scared of the most?

BDN: I think with Illinois everything starts with Wes Lunt, but the player who can hurt Nebraska the most is Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Last season, Nebraska was susceptible to big plays, but the Huskers have done a good job limiting them this year. A guy like Vaughn can break one at anytime, and if he breaks one early to take the wind out of the Nebraska crowd, it might be Illinois’ best chance of winning.

DI: Is the 4-0 start for Nebraska the real deal or a fluke?

BDN: Nebraska’s 4-0 start is no fluke. This team looks stronger, faster and much more confident than they did a season ago, but much of their success has been based on turnover margin. Last season, Tommy Armstrong threw 16 interceptions, and this season he’s thrown one through four games. Last season, Nebraska had 10 interceptions in 13 games. This season, the Huskers have nine already. Winning the turnover margin has helped, but this still looks like a much better football team than last season’s.

DI: Do you see Tommy Armstrong being an NFL QB?

BDN: Right now, no. Tommy Armstrong has a big-time arm and a lot of athletic ability, but he still isn’t the best decision maker and makes a lot of bad throws. I think Tommy Armstrong will find a place in the NFL, though. He’s proven this year that he’s just a good football player. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s who he is, he’s tough, has a will to win and is a downright gamer.

DI: What kinds of defenses does Armstrong struggle against the most?

BDN: Last season, Armstrong struggled with defenses who got a lot of pressure. That’s when he’s at his worst, with pressure in his face, he often throws the ball up for grabs. It showed last year against Miami, Iowa and Michigan State. All three of those teams were in his face throughout the game, and he threw nine picks in those three games.

DI: What type of buzz around campus has been created from being in the AP top 15?

BDN: There’s a lot of buzz around campus, and really the entire state. People are starting to really come around on Mike Riley, but I think a lot of people aren’t excited just based on ranking, a lot of it has to do with how the team has played. Fans know that this is a much better football team than a year ago.

Also, a lot of the hype has to do with the upcoming schedule. Fans see Illinois, Indiana and Purdue coming up, and everyone believes there’s a real chance Nebraska enters Madison 7-0 to play Wisconsin.

DI: A few huskers kneeled during the anthem Saturday — how vocal have the players and coaches been on these issues?

BDN: The coaches and players have been incredibly supportive of the cause. Michael Rose-Ivey, who lead the protest, asked Mike Riley and the athletic department for permission to do so. Rose-Ivey has since issued a statement about why he kneeled during the anthem, and I personally think he laid out his reasons very eloquently. Rose-Ivey has remained active on Twitter about issues since the protest, and he has the full support of the athletic department, and even has a meeting set up with Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts, who called the protest “disgraceful.”

DI: What needs to go right for Illinois to pull off an upset?

BDN: For Illinois to pull off an upset, it needs to contain Tommy Armstrong in the quarterback run game. The Huskers have proved they’re committed to running Armstrong, which they’ve done effectively. Armstrong’s legs have opened a lot in the passing game as well. On offense, Illinois needs to score first and take an early lead. We haven’t seen a lot of Armstrong when he needs to throw a bunch early in games, which is when he can make a lot of his mistakes.

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