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Nebraska Cornhuskers remind rest of B1G why they’re still contenders in 2014

Remember when Nebraska was a Top 15 team? It seems like ages ago that the Huskers were the class of the Big Ten West and a potential College Football Playoff contender. Everything was going fine, then it all came crashing down in the form of a 27-22 loss at Michigan State three weeks ago.

Yet, following the bye week the question was how Nebraska would respond to the loss. Staring them in the face was a team who has given them fits since the Huskers came to the Big Ten in 2011 — the Northwestern Wildcats.

All three previous contests as Legends division rivals were instant classic matchups, and early on in game No. 4 it seemed like we could be heading towards another one of those matchups. It also seemed like the Huskers were proving to have been imposters as Big Ten title contenders.

Then, just when they needed it most, the Huskers figured out who they really were and whooped up on Northwestern in a 38-17 win in Evanston, Ill. on Saturday night.

It wasn’t always easy though, as Nebraska and Northwestern went in to the half tied at 17-17. That’s when it all went right for the Huskers and wrong for the Wildcats, as Nebraska racked up 24 unanswered points in the second half to secure the victory.

No stat could tell the story of why the Huskers dominated the second half, nor why they can be true contenders more than this:

Hidden in a four touchdown and 146 yard day by star running back Ameer Abdullah was the key to the Huskers being a true contender though, and that was an efficient and smart game by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.

The sophomore signal caller completed 18 of 29 passes for 221 yards, and while he had no passing touchdowns he also didn’t turn the ball over either. Armstrong also added 55 yards on 10 carries on the ground, proving he can be a player that can help his offense win games in multiple ways.

Going in to this game there were serious questions about Armstrong’s ability to help this team should an opponent shut down Abdullah. On Saturday, Armstrong forced Northwestern to respect the passing game and sure enough, the Huskers’ struggling run game became good, very quickly.

No series was bigger for the Huskers than the final one of the first half. With 1:52 left and his defense just giving up a touchdown to make it 14-7 Northwestern, Armstrong showcased the ability that makes him an asset to the Huskers.

He started the drive with a 46-yard strike De’Mornay Pierson-El to the Northwestern 27-yard-line, then completed an 11-yard pass to Abdullah out of the backfield. Armstrong then went on to be on the receiving end of the 16-yard trick play pass from Pierson-El for the game-tying score.

From that moment on, the Huskers offense found its rhythm and rhyme and Armstrong had a big hand in that turnaround on Saturday night. It included a near touchdown that showcased Armstrong’s athletic ability and turned heads all weekend long on the highlight shows.

What also gets lost is a second half of dominance on the defensive side of the ball. After giving up 92 yards on the ground to freshman running back Justin Jackson in the first half, he ended the day with just 36 yards in the second half.

That kind of reaction to the Northwestern offense shows the character and heart the defense has, and let’s not forget that after giving up 17 first half points, the Huskers defense pitched a shutout in the second stanza.

The Nebraska team that came out for the second half against Northwestern…that’s a Nebraska team who can contend for the Big Ten title.

Now it’s about putting that team out on the field for four quarters, and if it happens November could be Nebraska’s best month yet.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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