Published Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:48 pm
FOOTBALL
Shatel: Good experience for Tommy and Ron, but Taylor is THE man

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — So, what shall we talk about this week?

The Cheshire cat probably wondered that to himself as he sat on a wall outside the Nebraska locker room here at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Taylor Martinez was doing some serious multitasking, munching on a postgame sandwich, talking into a cellphone and most certainly taking in all the drama as reporters bounced from Tommy Armstrong to Ron Kellogg to Tim Beck.

Drama?

Forget it. Tommy and Taylor. Tommy and Tommie Frazier. Tommy can do what Taylor can't do. If the Huskers can't win the Big Ten with Taylor, then give Tommy a shot. And anybody know why this Kellogg dude is playing?

Forget all of it. The quarterback controversy of 2013 ended Saturday.

It had been given life last week, in the media and social outlets where opinion and hopes and dreams are encouraged and certainly invited to catch fire. It was given life because the longer Martinez's toe takes to heal, the more time we have to come up with plans and conspiracy theories.

It's the way of the world, the old story of the stale senior and the fresh new kid. It's what fans and media do.

The story came here, to this quaint little corner of the Big Ten. Ross-Ade looked for the world like the long lost brother of Kansas' Memorial Stadium, complete with an end zone bowl and matching rows of empty seats and plenty of red in the picture.

QB comparison: A solid day for Kellogg

PassingRushing
CompAttYdsYds/AttTDIntAttYdsAvgTD
Ron Kellogg101314110.8102-4-2.00
Tommy Armstrong618432.403451.31

With several thousand friendly Husker faces on hand and an overwhelmed Purdue bunch, this would be a terrific place to launch a controversy. Instead it turned out to be a fitting place for a reminder.

Taylor Martinez is still the man. And is very much needed to be the man if Nebraska is going to negotiate this season.

But the best part was the way it happened, how it all unfolded. For Nebraska, it was as perfect as this October day.

The Kid had his struggles. He's looked so smooth in two starts at home, but here his inexperience showed. It was exposed in part by a Boilermaker defense that switched up fronts and looks and blitzed, blitzed, blitzed.

What happened was Armstrong completed 6 of 18 passes. He overthrew some receivers and a couple of times threw to a spot where there was no receiver. There were three picks.

Beck, the offensive coordinator, said one was his fault, one was Armstrong's and one went on the tab of the receiver. No matter. These things happen. Miscommunications. Mechanical issues. Rushing the throws because of the blitz.

These things happen because he's a freshman. And they will happen again. But Armstrong will also learn and grow.

“This was a good game for our young quarterback,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “They threw a lot at us defensively. They were unconventional. Blitz after blitz after blitz. Having gone through that is a good experience for Tommy.”

Exactly. Remember all of those years we wondered why the “next” guy wasn't getting meaningful snaps to prepare him for his turn? Armstrong has gotten those snaps this season, meaningful snaps in meaningful games.

But this game was the reminder that he's not ready yet. And it came in a blowout win that was never in doubt.

“I told him,” Beck said, “if you're a quarterback and you never think you're going to throw an interception, you're crazy.”

Good thing they had that other guy, Kellogg. That conspiracy guy. You know, the one where they said he was rotating into the game because the coaches didn't want to start a quarterback controversy. Because Armstrong was so good.

Or maybe they were playing this old guy as a gesture, as a way to say thanks for all of those times you didn't complain, all of those times you carried that clipboard with such grace.

Right?

“The media kept asking why we were playing Ron,” Beck said. “I think you saw today why he's playing.

“They threw a lot at us we didn't expect. Tommy hasn't seen it. But Ron has. He's sat in those meetings for four years. He was comfortable out there. We needed him today.”

You bet they did. The senior from Omaha had his best day as a Husker. Not just with personal bests for completions (10) and yards passing (141).

No, this will be that day because Kellogg came through in a Big Ten game, on the road. He came through because of the very words Beck said, words that were like beautiful music for a guy like Kellogg. They needed him.

“I'm having a great time,” Kellogg said. “I love playing college football. I want it to show when I'm out there.”

He played with a joy. It was evident as he striped passes down the field. Drop back, set, rifle it downfield. Kellogg does that better than Armstrong, does it better than his roommate, Martinez. He puts it where it needs to be downfield, and with some mustard.

But in an ugly, choppy game, Kellogg got to be field marshal. He led four of NU's six touchdown drives, including three in the second half. He got to crack wise with the offensive linemen in the huddle, saying to them at one point that they could divide up his postgame meal if they scored here.

He even got to deal with the wise guy holding the clipboard, a wonderful twist that made his day.

“Taylor is seeing things in the offense that he hasn't seen before, the nooks and crannies, from the sideline,” Kellogg sad. “It's the same view I get. A couple of times when I came over to the sideline, he said, 'You missed this, you should have done this.' He's giving me trouble, sort of what I do to him.

“I loved it.”

It was a feel-good day, to be sure. A day when potential controversy turned into good medicine all around. The freshman got necessary scars, and the good soldier senior got his Kodak moments, or whatever they call those these days.

Tommy Armstrong is the first Tommy Armstrong, not the next T. Frazier. But that's going to be more than good enough one day. Martinez, for all of his quirks and turnover issues, is still that guy the coaches will want to take into November when there are no more walks in the Ross-Ade park.

Now whether Martinez will be healthy by November, no one knows. But when he's back, he's back.

No controversies. But that didn't mean no drama. There were heavy hearts all around, looking at the image of senior guard Spencer Long leaning on two crutches. No one knows when Long will be back.

“You feel for him and hope he's going to be OK,” Kellogg said. “It can happen like that, so quick. Every time I'm out there, I'm thankful. Every game, it's what we live for.”

* * *

Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after the Purdue game:



Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:



Video: Husker fans at Purdue:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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