LINCOLN — As well as senior walk-on quarterback Ron Kellogg played in Saturday's spring game — three touchdown drives and 148 yards passing — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said after the game that redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong may have the edge for the backup job coming out of spring.
“I'll have to take a look at the spring game and see, but at the end of the day, what we're doing is taking all of those kids from where they were and trying to make them better,” Pelini said. “I thought Tommy made big strides throughout the spring.”
Armstrong completed five of seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, deftly running the zone read and option plays through the second and third quarters. Armstrong ran the speed option — a play that NU has struggled to master since Jammal Lord finished his career in 2003 — for a 12-yard touchdown in the second quarter, pitching the ball to sophomore Imani Cross, who found an alley near the sideline.
That alley had been created, in part, by Armstrong attacking the line of scrimmage and drawing defenders to him, then pitching late to Cross.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said Armstrong hadn't run the option much at Cibolo (Texas) Steele High School. He operated there mostly out of a pro-style system.
“He's got some natural running ability,” Beck said. “We've emphasized (the option) with him a bit more and found different ways to do it.”
Armstrong didn't lose any fumbles, but “he put the ball on the ground” too often, Beck said. One of Armstrong's fumbles popped right into the arms of offensive tackle Brent Qvale so quickly that some in the press box thought it was an option pitch to a big lineman.
“I know he might not be perfect, but I thought he played fast and he played hard,” Beck said. “Gotta hang on to the football better. But he made good decisions. I thought he did some good things.”
Alonzo Moore shook off the hamstring injury that put his status in doubt for the Nebraska spring game — and then found a way to make an impact.
The redshirt freshman caught two passes for the Red team, including a 37-yard touchdown throw from Armstrong to start the fourth quarter. His 22-yard reception in the second quarter included a couple of nifty moves to get inside the red zone.
“You see what we saw obviously when we recruited him, and what he's shown us in spring ball,” NU assistant coach Rich Fisher said of the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder from Winnfield, La.
Fisher did caution that Moore still has a long way to go, pointing out that he was operating in an offense that was “dummied down a little bit” to make it easier for some underclassmen to function.
“But obviously you can see he's a pretty explosive, real smooth kid who can make plays,” Fisher said. “I think he's going to help us next year.”
Beck would welcome it. He said he wants to play six to eight receivers next season.
“We've got to have depth, because as the season went on last year we wore down,” Beck said.
Making their move
Redshirt freshmen King Frazier and Graham Nabity got one last chance Saturday to benefit from Nebraska's scarcity at I-back, where Imani Cross was the only scholarship player left after Ameer Abdullah was injured early in spring practice.
Frazier closed out the spring with 12 carries for 64 yards for the White team, including a 1-yard touchdown run to start the scoring.
“King's got excellent instincts for a young guy, and he's a big guy as a 220-pound back,” NU assistant coach Ron Brown said. “But in some ways he runs like a little guy in terms of being able to find creases.”
Nabity ran for 33 yards on 11 attempts and also scored for the White. The Red team was pass-heavy until Taylor Martinez left the game: Cross carried only seven times and gained 55 yards with a TD.
Brown said Cross also made the most of March and April practices coming off his contributions as a true freshman last season.
“Imani had a great spring,” Brown said. “With us backing off with Ameer this spring, we gave Imani a lot of opportunities to run the football in a variety of different ways. I'm very pleased with him.”
Another big leg?
The Mauro Bondi era started with the sophomore kicker making one of two long field-goal attempts in the Red-White scrimmage, both with a solid north wind behind him.
Bondi connected on a 50-yarder in the first quarter. His miss was on a 58-yarder in the third, where he had the distance but missed to the right.
Nebraska is looking to remain steady at place-kicker after Brett Maher and Alex Henery handled the duties the last six seasons.
Backup kicker Spencer Lindsay missed his only attempt for the White, a 47-yarder into the wind in the third quarter.
On second thought ...
Martinez had audibled out of the play that eventually resulted in a 45-yard touchdown pass to fullback C.J. Zimmerer.
Martinez saw something before the snap to begin the second quarter and changed the play. But then changed his mind, and went with the original play call (a deceptive counter-attack off a wide I-back run look).
Good decision by Martinez, who faked a handoff to Cross and lofted a well-placed pass to a wide-open Zimmerer.
“You kind of act like you're going to block him, then sneak by,” Zimmerer said. “And, hopefully, beat him on the deep route.”
Zimmerer got pulled down from behind on the play, but not before he crossed the goal line for the score.
Pelini said that, if Nebraska had to play a game right now, Bondi would be the starting kicker while redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Foltz would be the punter. ... Pelini praised Frazier, who rushed for 64 yards, saying “he's going to play some football for us.”... Beck said the top five receivers right now are senior Quincy Enunwa, junior Kenny Bell, junior Jamal Turner and redshirt freshmen Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp. When junior Tyler Wullenwaber and sophomore Taariq Allen return fully from ACL tears, they'll be in the mix, as well. ... Pelini said he has four tackles and five center/guards he feels good about in the offensive line rotation. The tackles: Seniors Qvale, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez; and sophomore Zach Sterup. The guards/centers: Seniors Cole Pensick and Spencer Long; juniors Jake Cotton and Mark Pelini; and sophomore Givens Price. Sophomore Ryne Reeves will be a part of that group once he returns from a leg injury that currently has him riding a scooter.
— Sam McKewon, Jon Nyatawa, Rich Kaipust