LINCOLN — Senior Ron Kellogg said he and redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong will be making a deliberate attempt to boost morale and encourage their teammates if they again take over at quarterback this week.
Taylor Martinez, the starter since 2010, is likely out. And the Huskers are coming off a disappointing offensive performance in a 34-23 loss at Minnesota.
So in step Kellogg and Armstrong, who are expected to share the workload Saturday. And they plan to bring as much positive energy as possible. To “light a fire” among their teammates or to “pick them up” whenever possible, Kellogg said.
“Whatever I can do — myself and Tommy — to get the team riled up, excited to play and come out to practice,” Kellogg said.
It's natural for the gregarious Kellogg, who plans to take the offensive line out to dinner later this week. Teammates have raved about Armstrong's leadership ability already, too.
Kellogg said he and Armstrong have to take a team-first approach to their jobs.
“I just want a close team, a (close)-knit community,” Kellogg said. “I just want everybody focused on the job, and that's getting a victory against Northwestern this weekend.”
Martinez missed his second straight practice Tuesday as he deals with hip, toe and shoulder problems.
Coach Bo Pelini said Monday that the Huskers would go forth with Armstrong and Kellogg ready to play, with Armstrong possibly headed for his fourth career start Saturday.
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Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said the first order of business for Martinez is to get healthy, but the senior also needs to stay involved through the week.
“He's frustrated,” Beck said. “I don't blame him. It's got to be hard. For a guy with his senior year and the expectations he has, and just to have nagging injuries all year long on him ... it's got to be frustrating.
“But our job as coaches is we've got to put a product out on the field. We've got to get guys ready to play. And we've got to move on to the next opponent.”
Beck said he has no concerns with how Armstrong and Kellogg handle this week because they've been in this position already.
Huskers know they've been in this position before
The goals are still intact. That's the message the Huskers are telling themselves as they come off a loss at Minnesota and begin prep for Northwestern, whose goals for a Big Ten title have been lost to a four-game losing streak.
The Huskers sit at 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten — the same record they had last year entering a home game with Michigan. NU won there and four more to capture the Legends Division and qualify for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis. Nebraska intends to make a similar run in 2013.
“We're in the same exact position we were last year — 5-2 and one conference loss,” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “We control our own destiny. We've just got to put our nose to the grindstone and recommit to each other, play hard, have fun, trust in what they're doing and believe in each other. ... The rest will take care of itself.”
Junior wide receiver Kenny Bell said the Huskers' confidence is still high.
“We're a good football team. We know that,” he said. “Saturday wasn't our day, but you come back and start preparing to go again this Saturday. That's the beautiful thing about college football: There's usually Saturdays after that to go get better.”
Defensive end Jason Ankrah — who was stripped of his Blackshirt like the rest of his Husker teammates who had them — said Tuesday that older players had a strong message to deliver to the younger players.
“Just because you lose doesn't mean the season's over,” Ankrah said. “We still got a chance to get what we want to get accomplished. You don't take a loss to put your head down and say, 'Aw, the season's over.'”
Ameer sits one out, but it's only precautionary
I-back Ameer Abdullah did not practice Tuesday, but Beck said it was mostly to protect the junior as he closes in on a second straight 1,000-yard season.
Abdullah injured an ankle Saturday at Minnesota, when he carried 19 times for 165 yards to push his season total to 981. He ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game at 140.1, trailing only Wisconsin sophomore Melvin Gordon at 144.6.
“He'll be fine,” Beck said. “It was just precautionary with him. He's been playing great for us. He's just beat up a little bit. He'll be ready to roll.”
Tough starting debut for Husker guard Moudy
NU junior Mike Moudy has had more enjoyable experiences than a game full of blocking a future NFL draft pick in Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. But he said he'll end up benefiting from his first career start at right guard in place of the injured Spencer Long.
“I didn't perform to the best of my ability,” Moudy said. “Run blocking was decent, but pass blocking was not even close to what it can be.”
Beck acknowledged that Hageman “at times got the better of Mike.” But Moudy's teammates could relate.
“He got the better of Cole (Pensick), he got the better of all those guys,” Beck said. “At times, those guys held their own. It was just kind of inconsistent up front. But we're not ready to quit on them or throw the towel in.”
Moudy played all the snaps in the game — no rotation was established — and he said he felt like he found a “rhythm.” Moudy said he hasn't seen much of a rotation at this point and is not sure there will be one against Northwestern. Previously, Beck had said Crete sophomore Ryne Reeves and sophomore Givens Price might be suitable backups to Moudy or junior guard Jake Cotton.
“We probably need to rotate a little more,” Beck said. “It didn't seem like our guys were playing a lot. First quarter and fourth quarter, we had something like 14 plays.”
Long's line mates have his number
Andrew Rodriguez and the rest of the offensive line wanted to show Long — an All-Big Ten performer who's out for the rest of the year with a torn MCL in his left knee — how important his presence was and still is to the unit. So they told Long last week that each of them would be wearing Long's No. 61 jersey for one game for the rest of the season.
“He was pretty stoked,” Rodriguez said. “We just told him: 'We're going to wear your jersey. We're going to ball out for you.' We didn't get the win, but it was fun doing it.”
Rodriguez said Long's presence is missed on the field.
“Not having him around — it's an impact on the offensive line,” Rodriguez said. “He has the leadership, he has everything. Not being there — it's just like a missing piece of the puzzle. We just did it as something to remember him by.”
Blackshirts back on the shelves
Since Blackshirts were handed out by defensive coordinator John Papuchis before the season, there hadn't been too much attention paid to the honor. Only one player — linebacker David Santos — had lost a Blackshirt.
Not all of the regular Husker contributors had Blackshirts — seven of the eight leading tacklers, for example, didn't — and on Tuesday, none of them appeared to have them. Ones who had, like Ankrah, wore white tops instead.
Ankrah spoke to the defense responding after the 34-23 loss with two “really aggressive” practices.
“You gotta practice physical to play physical,” Ankrah said. “You gotta practice fast to play fast.”
Seniors, Ankrah said, sent a strong message to younger players earlier in the week.
“A lot of them were shocked we were telling them that, like 'What are you talking about?' but that's what a young guy does. Hopefully that message got across. And it's shown, because we've been practicing really aggressive and fast.”
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