Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blackshirts Derail Boilermakers As Armstrong Struggles

The most annoying meme in Nebraska football in recent weeks has been the "Tommy Armstrong is better than Taylor Martinez" viewpoint. If it was limited to a few crackpots, it would be fairly easy to dismiss. But it's not; people who should no better have signed onto the "Tommy Armstrong in 2013" bandwagon.  Even when the evidence is in scant supply.

No doubt that Tommy Armstrong runs the option better than Taylor Martinez.  He also has better fundamentals throwing the ball.  But he's also a redshirt freshman, who's fairly inexperienced.  He's done well in a simplified offense against inferior competition.  The competition heats up in November, and Armstrong isn't playing anywhere near the level that Martinez is capable of. Not only isn't Armstrong the best quarterback in Lincoln, he hasn't even established himself as the best available quarterback. 

That's led many people to bring out the black helicopter theories from the grassy knoll as to why Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III are splitting snaps in both practices and games.
Today, reality hopefully hit home like Ndamukong Suh hits quarterbacks. For all the talent and potential Armstrong has, he's still inexperienced. And it showed today... 18 passes thrown, six caught by Huskers, three intercepted by Purdue. And as the game went on, Armstrong got worse.  In the second half, Armstrong threw five incompletions, one interception, and no completions.  One "should've" been caught by Quincy Enunwa, but others could have been intercepted...but weren't. Suffice it to say that Purdue isn't a very good team in 2013.

And Armstrong is a freshman.  It happens. And when the freshman is struggling, sometimes you have to pull him. And it's a heck of a lot easier to do when you are already alternating quarterbacks... especially when quarterback 1-A IS playing well.  I understand the narrative that when you play two quarterbacks, you don't really have a quarterback.  Well, Nebraska doesn't really have a healthy quarterback, so you play what you've got.

And based on today, if Taylor Martinez isn't ready to go against Minnesota, Nebraska's starting quarterback in Minneapolis should be Ron Kellogg III.  Doesn't mean that Armstrong shouldn't play in that game...but Kellogg should be rewarded with the start for a better performance today.  Armstrong is young; he'll bounce back.

Fortunately, all that was moot on a day when Nebraska imposed their will from the opening play of the game. Aaron Curry started the game with a five yard sack of Purdue's true freshman quarterback Danny Etling, and the rout was on.  Etling might be a good quarterback down the line after they build a offensive line, but today, the Boilermakers were overwhelmed by the Nebraska defense.  Don't make the mistake of saying the Blackshirts are somehow back; Purdue is exactly the type of team that a Bo Pelini defense excels against. Without the threat of a run by the quarterback or running back, the defensive line could attack and the secondary could worry about covering.

The Blackshirts simply did their job today, and did it well.  Randy Gregory was disruptive much of the day, and even Thad Randle and Jason Ankrah got into the mix.  Isn't it time to give Gregory that Blackshirt? I thought the secondary played pretty well in the first half...not quite so much in the second half, especially at cornerback. Josh Mitchell had his problems, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste spent the second half in the locker room after being ejected.

Should Jean-Baptiste have been ejected? By the letter of the new rules, yes.  Earlier this summer, I had an opportunity to listen to Big Ten official Tripp Sutter discuss the new targeting rules, and it's crystal clear. If defenders aim for the belly and below, they'll probably be fine.  Aim at the shoulders, and the risk of being ejected is great. The officials have no choice in the matter; the call is clear, and if the officials fail to  make the call, they'll be disciplined.  Fair or not, the official called it correctly.

The most disappointing play of the day on defense had to be the last one, with Jonathan Rose losing coverage on DeAngelo Yancey to end the shutout bid.  Offensively, the biggest disappointment had to be losing all-American offensive guard Spencer Long to a knee injury. Bo Pelini didn't want to say it in the post-game press conference, but it sounds an awful like a season-ending ACL tear, if you read between the lines.

His loss really shook up the continuity on the offensive line, and that's something that could be devastating if he's out as long as it sounds like it could be.

Bottom line is that Nebraska played well enough today to beat an overmatched opponent. That might not be enough in November against Michigan and Michigan State, but if the defense continues to improve and Martinez is back and reasonably healthy, it might be enough.

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