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Nebraska quarterback Ryker Fyfe (17) warms up during practice, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Nebraska is scheduled to play Tennessee in the NCAA college football Music City Bowl Friday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Backup QB Fyfe 'dialed in' for bowl start against Vols

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Read more about the 2016 Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE — Nebraska will turn to senior Ryker Fyfe to start in place of injured top quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. against Tennessee today in the Music City Bowl.

Armstrong made the 44th start of his Nebraska career in the regular-season finale at Iowa, but his hamstring injury means Fyfe will get the nod for the 24th-ranked Cornhuskers (9-3) against the Volunteers (8-4) in just the third meeting between the programs.

"He's had an excellent month of practice," Huskers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said Thursday. "He's gotten a ton of reps. He's been preparing to start this game for a while. It wasn't really out there and we weren't quite sure of Tommy's status, but he has been preparing to play the game and finish off his career. I think he's been excited about it.

"He's been dialed in and he's really worked hard in the preparation part of it studying and getting himself in position to play his best football."

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said it would be determined later Thursday if Armstrong would be available as an emergency third option behind Fyfe and sophomore Zack Darlington.

In addition to Armstrong, the Huskers will be without leading receiver Jordan Westerkamp (knee surgery) and starting safety Nate Gerry (academics).

Fyfe started one game in 2015, a 55-45 loss at Purdue, before completing 31 of 63 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in seven games this season. He played most of Nebraska's 62-3 loss at Ohio State after Armstrong was injured in the second quarter. Fyfe started the next game, a 28-7 win against Maryland.

Against the Terrapins, Fyfe was 23-of-37 passing for 220 yards and a touchdown to record Nebraska's first win since 2010 with a starting quarterback other than Armstrong or Taylor Martinez.

"You don't lose a guy like Armstrong with his experience and playmaking ability — 22 touchdowns accounted for this year, 2,200 yards passing, over 500 yards rushing — and not say you're going to miss him," Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "Fyfe can operate the offense. He can throw the ball and he's got a nice feel for their offense, and I admire guys like him. He's a senior, he's stuck around the program, he's worked his way up and he's having the opportunity to play in a bowl game for a great program like Nebraska. We know what he's capable of doing.

"We also respect the stable full of running backs that they have. They've got some great receivers, and it all starts, obviously with Nebraska, when you think about them, you think about that big red offensive line right there. We know we're going to have quite a challenge tomorrow."

Shoop believes the long layoff between games allowed his maligned defense to refresh, and he noted how much healthier cornerback Cameron Sutton and linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., who missed time this season because of injuries, have looked in bowl prep. But he stopped short of playing the redemption angle for a Tennessee defense that allowed nearly 2,000 yards in its past three games, but Shoop expects the Vols to return to early-season form against Nebraska.

Langsdorf said the amount of injuries Tennessee's defense dealt with made preparation "tricky" for his team, but he expects the Vols to take an aggressive approach and come after his inexperienced quarterback.

"He hasn't had a ton of (playing time) with just three starts," Langsdorf said of Fyfe. "He needed some more work. It was helpful that we had this much prep time for the game. We kind of got him some work and some things he might not have had a lot during the season, but he's performed well.

"I thought in the Maryland game when he played, and with this amount of time in practice, we've hit a lot of different things and gotten him up to speed on some stuff that he might not have repped as much. He's ready to go. He's been looking good, and I think he's excited to start."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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