LINCOLN — Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong walked off the field Thursday night with a smile. He may walk out of Saturday's game against South Dakota State with something else — a start.
With NU coach Bo Pelini calling senior Taylor Martinez “doubtful” because of a left toe injury, Armstrong, a redshirt freshman, has a slight lead over fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III heading into the SDSU game. Either would be the first Husker quarterback other than Martinez to start a game since November 2010.
“If we were to start today, we'd probably start with Tommy Armstrong,” Pelini said. “But you'll see Ronnie Kellogg. We want to make sure we look at this practice film — I haven't visited with (offensive coordinator) Tim (Beck) since practice has been over — but that's kind of the way we've been leaning going into today.”
On Tuesday, Beck said Armstrong and Kellogg were “battling their guts out” to see who'd start if Martinez — who sat out Thursday — wasn't healthy enough to play. Pelini said he had “full confidence” in Armstrong and Kellogg. He left the door open a crack if Martinez makes a sudden recovery for Saturday.
“He's either going to play or he's not,” Pelini said of Martinez. “We want him to be 100 percent.”
Armstrong spent much of August at less than 100 percent because of what coaches called “minor” knee surgery just before training camp. In subsequent interviews, both coaches and Armstrong — who made his collegiate debut with four carries for 23 yards against Southern Mississippi — said the return to full speed took longer and was more frustrating than expected.
Pelini said Armstrong “made a big jump” in the last two weeks and kept the momentum through this week.
“He had a tremendous week of practice,” Pelini said. “They both practiced well. It's very close.”
Kellogg, an Omaha Westside grad and son of Omaha high school hoops legend Ron Kellogg Jr., knows the offense at least as well as Martinez, and perhaps better. Beck has described him as the “ultimate backup quarterback” who can dissect defenses as well as coaches at times.
Armstrong chose Nebraska over offers from Oregon and other schools. He led Cibolo (Texas) Steele to a state title as a junior.
Nebraska's fourth scholarship quarterback, Johnny Stanton, remains on track for a redshirt year. Walk-ons Ryker Fyfe and Tyson Broekemeier are also available.