Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers vs. #21 Tennessee in Music City Bowl
No one is going to confuse the 2016 Nebraska football season with what happened in 2015.
After going 5-7 during the regular season last year, the Cornhuskers got off to a blistering start in 2016, opening 7-0 before dropping three of their last five, including lopsided losses at Ohio State and Iowa.
But despite a three win improvement from one year to the next, the Big Red finds itself in roughly the same spot it did last December, needing a win in a bowl game to get the program moving back in the right direction.
The Volunteers (8-4), picked by many to win the SEC West, also started well in 2016, winning their first five games, but a slew of injuries limited Tennessee to just three wins in their last seven games.
The Huskers (9-3) will be without three key seniors in the game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp are sidelined with injuries, while defensive back, and Sioux Falls native, Nate Gerry will miss the game due to a university-imposed suspension.
Backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe will start in Armstrong's place for the second time this season. He guided the Huskers to a win over Maryland, November 19.
Nebraska's offense will be facing one of the top pass rushers in the nation. Tennessee junior defensive end Derek Barnett has 12 sacks this season and is one shy of Reggie White's all-time career mark with the Volunteers.
But as good as they are on pass defense, Tennessee really struggles against the run. The Volunteers allowed an average of 230 yards rushing per game - 111th in the nation. That could mean a big day for Nebraska running back Terrell Newby, who ran for 864 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season.
Tennessee's offense revolves around dual threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs. The senior led the Vols in rushing (713 yards), scoring nine times, while also throwing for 2,600 yards and 26 touchdowns.
He's got two very capable running backs to hand the ball to. Alvin Kamara and John Kelly each ran for more than 500 yards this season, combining for 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Junior wide receiver Josh Malone finished in the top Ten in the SEC with 45 catches for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Tennessee offense finished the regular season with a flourish, averaging 312 yards rushing in their last three, and 50 points a game in their last four.
Kickoff is 2:30 PM, Friday, in Nashville. This will be the 16th different bowl game Nebraska has played in dating back to their first post season appearance in the 1941 Rose Bowl.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the match-up with Tennessee: