Backup quarterbacks lead NU to win

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) runs
through a gap it the Southd Dakota State defense in the
second quarter of their game Saturday at Memorial
Stadium in Lincoln.

LINCOLN — It was a wild week for Nebraska football.

The Husker defense fell flat against UCLA.

Then there was the release of an audio recording in which head coach Bo Pelini ripped the fan base. On top of that, senior quarterback Taylor Martinez didn't practice all week and was out of the game with a turf toe injury.

Some wounds needed to bandaged by a strong performance against FCS foe South Dakota State.

That didn't happen in the first quarter as the Jackrabbits (3-1) owned a 17-14 lead behind 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns by junior running back Zach Zenner, who went on to rush for 202 yards before leaving the game with an injury.

Oh no, not again.

Instead, the defense settled down while the offense — behind nearly perfect outings from backup quarterbacks Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong, Jr. — put on a historic performance in helping the Huskers (3-1) earn a 59-20 win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
For the first time in school history, Nebraska's offense eclipsed 300 yards rushing and passing.

The 645 total yards and 34 first downs were also the most ever by a Nebraska team under Coach Pelini.

Armstrong, a redshirt freshman, earned the start and finished 12-of-15 for 169 yards and a touchdown. Kellogg alternated into the game and didn't skip a beat, stacking up 136 yards on 8-of-9 passing.

"I'm really happy for those two quarterbacks. I thought they played extremely well," Pelini said. "I thought that was our best rhythm that we've had offensively."
Armstrong lead NU's offense to a flawless start.

The Huskers opened the game with a quick four-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off by an option play in which Armstrong pitched the ball to sophomore running Imani Cross for a five-yard score.

Armstrong followed that possession with another 66-yard drive that lasted nine plays and ended in Cross' second score of the quarter.

"It didn't feel different at all," said senior receiver Quincy Enunwa on the play of the quarterbacks. "That's what really what we harp on with the twos, to make sure their always ready. You never want to have a backup that's not ready to play. Both of our quarterbacks did well today."

But the quarterbacks' strong performance was overshadowed by a stunning offensive display by SDSU.

After NU's quick scoring drive to open the game, the Jackrabbits countered with a four-play, 75 yard drive capped off by a 40-yard tote from Zenner.
SDSU — ranked No. 6 in the FCS ranks — followed that quick hit with a five-play, 71 yard drive and another Zenner score.

Late in the first quarter, it looked like SDSU was going to score a touchdown on its third straight possession.

But back-to-back sacks by sophomores David Santos and Randy Gregory pushed the Jackrabbit offense back to the NU 31-yard line, forcing a field goal. Justin Syrovatka hit the 48-yard three-pointer.

After that sequence, though, the Blackshirts only yielded three more points the rest of the game.

But there still isn't a lot of good coming from that side of the ball, according to defensive coordinator John Papuchis after the game.

"There was an air of confidence when we got those back-to-back sacks. I thought that was a positive," Papuchis said. "You know, we have to sustain that. There was no consistency on any level, and we have to do that to get better.

"We lack a sense of urgency and we lack a sense of confidence. To me, that's just as troubling as anything."

The defense gave up 465 total yards to the Jackrabbits, including 227 on the ground for an average of six yards per carry.

Nebraska's offense, however, never let off the gas, outscoring SDSU 38-0 over the second and third quarters.

Junior running back Ameer Abdullah took it in from one-yard out to put the Huskers back in front at 21-17 with 12:30 left before half.

Armstrong then found sophomore Sam Burtch for a 16-yard strike to give the young quarterback his first career touchdown pass and increase the lead to 28-17. That was one of many firsts for young Husker players against SDSU.

After an interception by senior Stanley Jean-Baptiste, his fourth in as many games, the offense needed only two plays to increase the lead to 35-17 when Kellogg hit sophomore Tyler Wullenwaber for a 23-yard score and give the receiver his first touchdown at NU.
Sophmore kicker Mauro Bondi nabbed a 22-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Huskers a 38-17 lead into the locker room.

Freshman running back Terrell Newby earned his first career touchdown when he dove in from 10-yards out to increase the lead to 45-17 with 4:15 left in the third.
On SDSU's next offensive possession, Gregory grabbed his first interception and returned it 33 yards for his first touchdown. The Huskers were up 52-17.
Syrovatka nailed a 29-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter for the Jackrabbits, but Newby added a five-yard score right after to finish out the game's scoring.

Armstrong, who knew he would get the starting nod earlier in the week when it was clear that Martinez needed a week off, said after the game that he couldn't sleep Friday night.

"It was a pretty good experience just coming out and making the coaches happy and doing my thing just because Taylor couldn't play. I think I did a really good job," he said. "My whole objective is pretty much to compete to be the No. 1 guy. They told me one day Taylor might go down and I might have to play one game. It may have to happen whenever he leaves.

"Your number can be called at any time, so that has to be the mindset. You just have to come out and prepare like you are going to play this week."

The Huskers have enter into their first bye week before they open Big Ten play at home against Illinois on Oct. 5. Pelini, who thought that the defense had its worst outing of the season against the Jackrabbits, said there is plenty that needs to be worked on that side of the ball.

"We can't play like that. We have a lot of work to do, and it starts with us coaches. It wasn't anything fancy that hurt us. We hurt ourselves," he said. "We didn't play with technique. We didn't play fundamentally. In the end, we didn't play nearly as well as what our standard needs to be. I don't want to take away from the win, but we need to make a big jump from now to two Saturdays from now."

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

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