Big Ten

Big Ten preview: New coaches bring new offense for Tommy Armstrong, Huskers

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Big Ten preview: New coaches bring new offense for Tommy Armstrong, Huskers

Tommy Armstrong has spent the past two seasons learning on his feet how to be a Big Ten quarterback.

And then Nebraska changed coaching staffs.

Armstrong, who started eight games in relief of an injured Taylor Martinez in 2013, started every game for the Huskers a season ago and did a pretty good job. His numbers weren’t up there with the J.T. Barretts and Connor Cooks of the world — but then again, neither were anyone else’s.

Last season, Armstrong completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher behind Ameer Abdullah, gaining 705 yards on the ground and reaching the end zone six times with his legs. He’s a dual-threat quarterback, no doubt about it.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Can Mike Riley do what Bo Pelini couldn't with Huskers?]

And it looked like Armstrong was well on his way to being one of the Big Ten’s best at the position in 2015 before Nebraska fired Bo Pelini and brought in Mike Riley. The new head coach brings a new offense with him, and while Armstrong will surely be able to handle it, you wonder if it will decrease his potential for stardom.

"Last year, we had more of a zone-read type of thing, run or pass selection into all of our plays pretty much. This year, most of it's we're going to run or we're going to pass. And it's either you're going to complete it or it's going to be an incompletion,” Armstrong said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “You can't bail yourself out with your feet. You have to complete passes and be accurate and give your guys a chance to catch the ball. That's what we've been working on in the offseason, just making sure we're more accurate, tallying up all our passes and completions with the quarterbacks and being held in high expectation when it comes to completion rate."

That sounds like Armstrong’s dual-threat ability might be taken off the board, but Riley is glad Armstrong can do it all. It might change the offense Riley’s staff ran for years at Oregon State, but it might prove better for the Huskers in 2015.

"With Tommy, he's able to run the football,” Riley said. “He's had experience running some of the zone-read stuff. His mobility in throwing the football outside the pocket is good. So it's made us in a lot of ways kind of get out of our own box and look at what's good for the players because what you want to do all the time is not necessarily what's going to be best to do for your team. And so discovering it and selecting that, like I said, is a big, big issue in how this is going to look in this season."

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: How will Huskers try to fill Ameer Abdullah's running back void?]

Armstrong has at times looked great. He had little trouble hooking up with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp the past two seasons to produce a passing attack capable of some big-time gains and some highlight-reel plays.

Bell is gone after graduating last season, as is Ameer Abdullah, the safety-valve of a running back who was one of the country’s finest a season ago. Things will get a bit trickier for Armstrong without that reliable running game. Many of the options at running back have little experience.

But Westerkamp is still around, and the Armstrong-to-Westerkamp connection will be relied on heavily, not just because of the losses of Bell and Abdullah but also because of injuries in the receiving corps, including one to De’Mornay Pierson-El that has knocked him out for almost two months.

"He's matured so much, and he had to right away, playing so early. He's a great quarterback, and we're lucky to have him,” Westerkamp said of Armstrong. “He's gotten better in all areas. He works his tail off all the time. He takes teaching. We've got a great new quarterbacks coach in coach (Danny) Langsdorf who's coached great quarterbacks, so he's definitely taking the teaching from all of them. That's what you need out of a guy like that, out of your leader. You need a guy who can take the coaching. He's been doing a great job, and he's improved in all aspects of his game."

So it’s more learning on the fly for Armstrong. Will the new Nebraska offense settle into place in a hurry, or will it take time? That’s a question to be answered once the season begins. Armstrong is a talented quarterback. He’s been a great one for the Huskers in recent seasons. Now it’s time to find out if, with new challenges, he can keep that success going.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.