The question was whether Taylor Martinez would play for the Nebraska football team on Saturday at Minnesota, following a bye-week.
And the answer was a definitive maybe.
“We’re just seeing how he’s progressing . . . kind of play it by ear as the week goes on,” coach Bo Pelini said at his weekly news conference on Monday.
Martinez, a four-year starter at quarterback, hasn’t played since the third game of the season against UCLA, and redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. has started the three games since then. After the first two of those games at least some Husker fans were ready to turn the job over to Armstrong. After the most recent, however, that attitude seems to have changed.
Though Nebraska won 44-7 at Purdue, Armstrong struggled, completing only six-of-18 passes with three interceptions. So fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III had to come to the rescue.
“Ronnie’s seen it all,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said afterward. “He’s been through meetings all four years, and he was a little more comfortable in there.”
Kellogg may have seen it all, but what Purdue’s defense offered that afternoon wasn’t exactly what the Huskers expected in their preparation; hence, Armstrong’s struggles.
The three-man defensive front the Boilermakers used “we didn’t even practice,” said Beck. “I don’t know why we practiced. They did everything completely different.”
That a coach would question why the team had practiced, even if he wasn’t serious, underscores the degree to which Purdue’s defensive game plan was a surprise. But defensive scheme or not, the game was Armstrong’s first on the road as a collegian. And his inexperience showed.
Presumably, the Purdue game was a reminder that Nebraska will need Martinez if it expects to return to the Big Ten championship game at Indianapolis on Dec. 7. And what better time for him to return than this week, before the heart of the Big Ten schedule begins?
“He’s been our guy for four years now. He’s proven himself,” offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles, also a fifth-year senior, said. “I mean, that’s coming from myself, my words. I think Taylor’s brought us back in games we were behind. He’s shown how great of a quarterback he can be, standing in the pocket, throwing the football. It’s exciting to have him back there.”
So, Jeremiah, that means you think he’s going to play at Minnesota?
“I have no idea,” said Sirles. “I’d love for him to play.”
Martinez was able to practice on Sunday, an indication that his turf-toe injury is healing. But such an injury “can take a long time; you just don’t know,” Pelini said.
And even when he returns, he’ll have “some rust in some areas that he has to get cleaned up,” said Pelini. “It’s going to be getting back footwork-wise, how he feels comfortable doing all the different movements, play-actions, footwork and things that he has to do throwing the football and obviously feeling comfortable putting his foot in the ground.
“I thought he looked good (on Sunday). We didn’t give him a lot. We’ll see how it goes as the week goes on, how he feels. We’re communicating with him. We’ll just play it by ear.”
Yes, you read that line in an earlier paragraph. Maybe he’ll play at Minnesota, and maybe not.
Either way, Armstrong will be ready. “Coach told me to prepare like I have for the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I’m going to prepare like I’m going to play if my number is called. At the same time . . . Taylor has earned that right to practice and play. I’m going to take my role however it is.”
Martinez has rewritten the quarterbacks section of the Husker record book. But as so often happens, young players, particularly those at high-profile positions, capture the fancy of fans. And so it has been with the talented Armstrong. Until Purdue.
“It was pretty tough,” said Armstrong. “I need to respond to adversity. I put most of the pressure on myself, and Coach Beck always told me not to do that. He told me after the game we got the win and no matter how you did, we still all went out there and capitalized on some things.
“You did some things bad here and you did some good things.”
So another hypothetical question: If Martinez is able to play, would Armstrong and Kellogg still get an opportunity when the outcome was in doubt?
The answer was a definitive maybe.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Pelini said.