Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw a touchdown, ran for another, and led the Nebraska Cornhuskers to 30 straight points after falling behind early, pulling off an upset victory over the 8-5 UCLA Bruins in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday night. With the win, Nebraska finished with a record of 6-7 on the year, under head coach Mike Riley, who was in his first season at the helm of the program.
He would go on to be named the offensive MVP of the game.
Riley became the first coach to win the bowl game twice—he previously won the game as the head coach of Oregon State in 2007 when it was called the Emerald Bowl, and played at AT&T Park. On Saturday night, he reflected on how special this win was, and what it meant to the program.
“I’m really proud of this football team,” Riley said. “Proud to be with them. Whether it was individual or team, we went through a lot of adversity caused by not winning games. I really like this group because every Monday they were always ready to play and get to work.”
The group Riley speaks of, will be without one of its key components moving forward. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins declared during the postgame press conference that this would be his final game for the university. He’ll declare himself for the NFL Draft next April, saying after counsel with his head coach and teammates, and receiving good grades for his play, that he is ready to complete the next step of his life, and his dream of playing in the National Football League.
“This is my final season at Nebraska. It’s always been a dream of mine to go to the NFL. I talked to my teammates and coach [Mike] Riley, and it’s the best decision for me.”
Riley described Collins’ decision to depart as a personal one, and that his role in the scenario is strictly to counsel his players. He said he wished Collins was sticking around, but gave a gleaming endorsement of the decision, and has confidence that it’s the right decision for him to make.
Armstrong completed 12 of 19 passes for 174 yards, and ran for 76 more. Overall, the Huskers finished with 326 rushing yards—a season high. For the game, Nebraska rushed the ball a total of 62 times, and eerily similar strategy that conference rival USC used against UCLA in their Nov. 28 matchup—in that game, USC rushed the ball 59 times for a total of 235 yards. After the game, Armstrong spoke about how the running back corps chemistry impacted the rest of the offensive units play in the game.
“Our running backs kept feeding off each other,” he said. “Once we had one good play, our offensive line kept feeding off of it. Our running backs were running hard, and we kept making the right reads.”
During the second quarter, safety Nate Gerry was ejected on an apparent targeting penalty—during Nebraska’s last regular season game, he was ejected for the same infraction. This time however, coaches and players from both sides disagreed with the referees decision on the call. UCLA head coach Jim Mora said during his postgame press conference he believed “it was a clean football play,” and had even exchanged words with Gerry on the sideline while the play was under review.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen finished the game 26 of 40 for 319 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In this game, he said the offense just didn’t do enough while it was on the field, and that the Bruins relied too heavily on their defense to save them.
“I felt pretty good like any other game, but we didn’t play right on offense,” Rosen said. “Long drive, quick 3-and-out, long drive, quick 3-and-out. Our defense got ran on them 62 times but it’s our responsibility on offense to control the ball a little bit and give them a break.”
Jaleel Wadood, who was named the defensive MVP of the game despite losing, acknowledged how lethal Nebraska’s running attack was in the game, referring to it as “a three-headed monster.” Nebraska put the ball in the hands of Devine Ozigbo 21 times, Imani Cross 15 times, and the aforementioned Armstrong rushed another 10 attempts of his own. During the third quarter alone, Nebraska gained 151 yards on the ground.
Though they opened to an early lead, UCLA became plagued by bad penalties—they were penalized a total of seven times in the game, two of which were personal fouls that kept Nebraska scoring drives alive.
David Barclay is a Bay Area sports insider for byteclay.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DJamesIII