Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett both have some positives, but their differences give the nod to the Buckeye signal-caller. Both are pass first quarterbacks who give opposing defenses fits as dual-threats with their legs and athleticism. If something breaks down in the pocket or they need a play in short yardage, both are capable of making a play and converting on the ground.
Although both are pass first quarterbacks, they both possess their flaws as passers too. Barrett has struggled with deep ball accuracy and has a tendency to not go through his progressions at times. For positives, Barrett has a calm and comfortable approach to the passing game, which limits turnovers and always puts the team in a good chance to win the game. Armstrong on the other hand, has a tendency to throw off his back foot when facing pressure and forces balls into tight coverage. Armstrong possesses the stronger arm, but has thrown an incredible 43 interceptions in 1,095 attempts, compared to Barrett’s 18 interceptions in 688 attempts.
The Nebraska defense and coaching staff feels confident about facing Barrett, since they have faced Armstrong in practice for the past four seasons.
“It is almost the same skill set,” NU defensive tackle Kevin Maurice said. “They are very athletic, and when they can, they are going to get out. It helps us a lot that we have been facing Tommy a lot.”
Nebraska coach Mike Riley shared a similar sentiment.
“We spent a lot of time defensively, obviously, with some of the same basic fundamental parts of versatile quarterbacks, all the run-pass option stuff, the run-run option stuff,” Riley said. “So we hope that we get that work in those times, with our best players going against each other. One of the big goals there is to make it not seem so unfamiliar when you’re playing a guy like J.T. all of a sudden.”
Armstrong has had a strong senior season. He threw three touchdowns to zero interceptions in a 35-32 victory over Oregon, and entering last week’s game against Wisconsin, he had thrown only five interceptions on the season. His turnovers have been down and he’s been a key to Nebraska’s No. 10 College Football Playoff ranking.
Last week the ‘Huskers traveled to Wisconsin, where Armstrong faced his toughest test of the season. Unfortunately they fell to the Badgers in overtime, and Armstrong showed cracks in his armor, which the Ohio State defense could potentially exploit.
Tommy Armstrong scouting report vs Wisconsin:
Armstrong dropped back 31 times against Wisconsin. He completed 10 passes and had 17 passes that fell to the turf. The biggest thing that Armstrong showed is that he is very, very uncomfortable when he faces pressure. Sure, the majority of quarterbacks suffer when they face pressure, but Armstrong’s mechanics breakdown quickly and he typically throws off his back foot -- resulting in an inaccurate throw or a batted down pass at the line of scrimmage. Armstrong stands at 6’1, which is short for a pocket passing quarterback, but four batted passes at the line of scrimmage is too much.
On Armstrong’s batted interception, he felt pressure in the pocket and threw the ball right into the defensive lineman. His head, feet and body are completely out of whack.
Not only did his mechanics breakdown, but the decision seemed desperate, considering it most likely would have been intercepted even if it didn’t get tipped.
Here’s another example where Armstrong felt pressure (the defender looks closer than he really is from the angle) and his mechanics completely disappeared. It’s almost as if he feels imaginary pressure from the interior, when it was in front of his face. Armstrong looks like a young quarterback who lacks confidence in the pocket and either pulls the trigger too soon, or bails the second he senses pressure.
Just from these two plays alone, it would be smart to expect Luke Fickell to dial-up pressure up the A-gap and get pressure in front of Armstrong’s face. It makes him extremely uncomfortable and he is then prone to throwing the ball sooner than he wants to. Also, expect to see the defensive line get their hands up in passing lanes, in an effort to tip passes.
In the the possible game winning two-minute drill, Armstrong felt imaginary pressure and dumped the ball off to his running back. They only needed about 20-yards to get into field goal range and instead, they lost about 25 seconds off the clock and did not gain any yardage. Poor decision making due to skittishness in the pocket. It’s a throw that should not have been made and essentially ended the potential game-winning drive.
The read option is something Armstrong does pretty well. They don’t ask him to do it as much as Ohio State asks Barrett to, but he makes sound decisions.
On the game-tying touchdown, Wisconsin clearly did not respect Armstrong as a runner. He only kept the ball on the read-option one other time and he was consistently handing the ball off. Armstrong had an easy read on the DE -- who did not delay — and kept the ball for an easy score. They basically treated Armstrong like a non-mobile quarterback, who had no running ability — which was odd. Either way, he took advantage of it. The Buckeyes know how to defend against the read option and it is something that should not burn the Ohio State defense.
- Showed jet motion against Wisconsin. As we know, Ohio State struggled against jet sweeps vs the Badgers, so expect one or two jet sweeps or jet motion to get the defense out of position.
- The tailbacks are very average. Neither Terrell Newby nor Devine Ozigbo possess any elite athletic trait that the Buckeye defense will have to account for.
- Nebraska struggles running the ball against the interior of the defense. Ohio State has a clear advantage here with their interior defensive line and Raekwon McMillan.
- Wide receivers Stanley Morgan Jr. (No. 8) and Jordan Westerkamp (No. 1) are both shifty after the catch. Both have the ability to make a corner miss and make big plays after the catch. Westerkamp is the better route runner and has the ability to get open much easier.
- After missing the past month, there’s a chance that tight end Cethan Carter will be back from a dislocated elbow. Carter’s size — 6’4, 240 lbs — will create mismatches in the passing game, which will give Armstrong a big target in the red zone and as a safety blanket.