Armstrong proving he can lead offense

LINCOLN — Nebraska coaches will never say it, but fans across the Cornhusker state must be talking about it at local coffee houses.

Maybe we should at least entertain the notion that we may have a genuine controversy at the quarterback spot.

The redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong led Nebraska to a 39-19 win over Illinois in Lincoln Saturday. That’s all that matters.

Though Nebraska defense was leaky at times, you can safely say Husker coaches have started to plug the holes.

As easy as Nebraska made it look against the Illini, you start to wonder if there is a bona fide reason to leave Armstrong at the starting spot — even if senior Taylor Martinez is completely healthy.

Isn’t it all about winning at Nebraska?

I’ve never been a fan of the idea that a starter can’t lose his job to injury, and frankly, there are too many question marks with Nebraska football to mess with a good thing right now.

Armstrong has potential to be a great thing. But, on this day, he didn’t have to win the game with his arm. Nebraska piled up 335 yards rushing on 50 carries, including 228 from Ameer Abdullah.

Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini spoke of competition in practice, no matter the position, but you get the idea that with his starting quarterback that subject is off limits.

“There’s always competition,” Pelini said in the postgame. “I think Taylor has earned it over a long period of time,” essentially writing off any chance of Armstrong being the guy once Martinez comes back.

I say even if Martinez is completely healthy for next week’s road game at Purdue, stay with Armstrong until he proves he can’t win games.

For the love of the game make Martinez earn his spot back when he takes off the walking boot.

Nebraska starting offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said Martinez already has proven himself.

“Taylor’s our quarterback,” Sirles said. “He showed it last year. You don’t because of an injury sit down.”

At the same time, Sirles said a player needs to earn it in practice.

Remember when Nebraska’s offense was struggling in the early ‘90s and Tom Osborne inserted the true freshman Tommie Frazier in a game at Missouri?

Safe to say Nebraska has struggled on offense to start the 2013 season, and so far having Armstrong lead the offense has calmed the storm.

It’s a different time, a different generation of players.

Yet sometimes I think coaches make unwritten agreements with players to draw them to campus, and there’s a sense of loyalty that sometimes overrides making a decision that’s better for the team.

Pelini should just stick with what’s working instead of listening to that voice of loyalty.

In his second start for Nebraska, Armstrong continued to play with the poise of a veteran, showing he has at least equal if not better skills than Martinez. Armstrong’s numbers weren’t big, but neither were his errors. He finished with 135 yards passing and two touchdowns. His Big Ten debut was made easier by Ameer Abdullah’s 228 yards rushing on just 20 carries.

Nebraska coaches maintain that Martinez is the starter regardless, but this game is about momentum and right now Nebraska is starting to roll with Martinez in street clothes. No way is this columnist saying Martinez can’t lead this offense because he can.

It’s not an easy decision to make considering Martinez has racked up big numbers in three-plus seasons as the starter. He has set Nebraska offensive records in many categories and may not see those broken anytime soon — but it’s all about wins.

While we’re talking about controversy, Nebraska continues to shuffle a ton of personnel on defense, and for the most part on Saturday NU found a way to slow down the Illinois offense led by Nathan Scheelhaase.

If you’re a fan of linebackers you gotta love the competition at that spot for Nebraska. This time around coaches turned to another set of young linebackers in Jared Afalava, Michael Rose and David Santos, sending Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas — the young stars in Nebraska’s first three games — to the second team.

Clearly these spots are open for the taking in every practice. The Blackshirts weren’t perfect — in fact they gave up chunks of yards at times.

Yet when you look at the defensive play calling Saturday, coaches dialed up timely blitzes, forced turnovers and put players in a position to turn back several Illinois drives deep into Nebraska territory. Corner Ciante Evans had a sack off the edge in the first half with Illinois threatening, and hit Scheelhaase to force an interception in the second half.

Like I said, this is a game of momentum and right now Nebraska has a little of that going.

No need to pull the plug.

To read more, see Monday's Hastings Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.>>>

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