LINCOLN, Neb. — Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s legs were so cramped up that when Nebraska’s defense was on the field he would drink pickle juice, Gatorade, water and anything else he could find on the sideline. He even was given fluids intravenously early in the fourth quarter.
It turned out he had one more run left in him.
With legs that he said felt like Jello, Armstrong took off on a quarterback draw, made two tacklers miss and scored a 34-yard touchdown with 2:29 left Saturday, lifting Nebraska to a 35-32 victory over No. 22 Oregon.
“My legs hurt,” he said, “but they feel better when you’re in the end zone.”
Armstrong wouldn’t have been in position to score if he hadn’t converted a fourth-and-9 with a pass to roommate Jordan Westerkamp two plays earlier.
Nebraska (3-0) came back from a 20-7 deficit late in the second quarter to give second-year coach Mike Riley a long-awaited win over Oregon (2-1). Riley was 0-7 against Ducks from 2008-14, his last seven years as Oregon State’s coach, and as he walked off the field he wiped his eyes.
During his postgame news conference he downplayed the personal satisfaction he got from beating his old nemesis.
“What it means right this moment is a lot. We’re 3-0 going into the Big Ten,” Riley said. “What this team is doing, I love the fight, just the fact we kept our poise so well to come back and make the plays to win.”
The Ducks, playing without star running back Royce Freeman , made it to midfield on their last possession, failing to convert on fourth down. Freeman left with what appeared to be a right leg injury during the Ducks’ second series. Coach Mark Helfrich had no update on Freeman’s status after the game.
Oregon had more to overcome than Freeman’s absence. The Ducks were penalized 13 times for 126 yards, and for the second straight week their defense wore down in the second half. Nebraska had 166 of its 228 rushing yards after half.
“We need to manage situations better,” Helfrich said. “Obviously, the penalties killed us. It’s a tough one to swallow. This could have been a gritty comeback, but we let it get away at the end.”
OREGON: The Ducks were their own worst enemies. They rushed for 336 yards, with Kani Benoit leading them with 100 and Dakota Prukop with 97, but the offense suffers without Freeman and is further hurt by penalties. First-year defensive coordinator Brady Hoke also needs to come up with a way for his unit to stop the run.
NEBRASKA: This was a feel-good win for Riley’s program and the 350th consecutive sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium. With Oregon behind them, the Huskers could be 7-0 when they head to Wisconsin on Oct. 29.
OREGON: The Ducks, who weren’t overly sharp in their first two games, probably will find themselves outside the Top 25 come Sunday.
NEBRASKA: This win should be enough to push the unbeaten Huskers into the Top 25 — a place they haven’t been since December 2014.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
NEBRASKA: Armstrong, who was 17 of 33 for 200 yards and three touchdowns, increased his career passing total to a school-record 7,376 yards. The previous record was 7,258 yards by Taylor Martinez.
OREGON: The Ducks’ streak of 82 straight games with a touchdown pass ended.
OREGON: The Ducks open Pac-12 play at home against Colorado. Oregon has outscored the Buffaloes by an average of 52-15 while beating them five years in a row, but this year’s Colorado team looks better than recent ones.
NEBRASKA: The Huskers play their Big Ten opener on the road against Northwestern, which beat them 30-28 in Lincoln last year.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org