Tennessee certainly has missed its fair share of players this season, and the Vols will be without several key pieces including linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, safety/kickoff returner Evan Berry, offensive lineman Chance Hall, defensive tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle and others for the Dec. 30 matchup against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
Nebraska will also be without several key pieces in what could be a battle of attrition on Friday.
Leading receiver Jordan Westerkamp – one of just four players in Husker history to record over 2,000 career receiving yards – has been ruled out after having knee surgery. Starting senior safety Nate Gerry, who is second in program history with 13 interceptions in his career, will miss the game because he is academically ineligible.
Westerkamp and Gerry are two of Nebraska’s top professional prospects for the upcoming 2017 draft.
But the biggest loss in terms of production might be starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who appears less and less likely to play with a hamstring injury. Nebraska coach Mike Riley confirmed to reporters on Monday in Nashville that senior quarterback Ryker Fyfe will get the starting nod on Friday. Armstrong doesn’t appear likely to play, but hasn’t been 100% ruled out as of Tuesday.
“I’m hopeful that Tommy makes progress and could be that emergency guy, possibly,” Riley said on Monday via Land of 10. “But it’s Monday right now. So I’m not going to say, finally, that he is out of the game for sure. But he has not practiced yet.”
Armstrong was the team’s leading passer on the season, completing 151-of-294 attempts (51.4%) for 2,180 yards, 14 TDs and eight interceptions. He was was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 512 yards and eight touchdowns on 113 carries. Fyfe – a four-year backup for the Huskers – has thrown for 800 yards on 129 attempts in his career.
Injuries and absences can’t be an excuse for either team in this one. Both are missing some key pieces, so depth and overall talent should be the deciding factors on Friday.