As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
How will the Huskers fare with consistency at the quarterback position?
Last season was supposed to be Taylor Martinez’s triumphant senior year. In three previous seasons as the Huskers’ starting quarterback, the dual-threat signal-caller had put up tremendous numbers. 2012’s stats were terrific: 2,871 passing yards and 1,019 rushing yards plus 22 total touchdowns.
Instead, though, Martinez sustained a serious injury that knocked him out of every game after Nebraska’s Sep. 14 matchup with UCLA, except for one: an Oct. 26 showdown with Minnesota. That game against UCLA in Lincoln was, unfortunately, the defining game for the Huskers last season in more ways than one. A blown 21-3 first-half lead ended in a 41-21 defeat. It was more about Nebraska’s ineffective defense, but Martinez’s absence following the loss hurt the Huskers.
The injury meant a shift from a four-year starter to a freshman in Tommy Armstrong, Jr. Armstrong wasn’t bad, and the Huskers actually went 7-1 in the games he started (he didn’t play much in the eventual overtime win against Penn State, though). He finished his freshman year as the team’s leading passer with 966 yards, and yet another dual-threat QB, he gained 202 yards on the ground, too. In three different games he surpassed the 150-yard-passing mark. He completed two touchdown passes in the Huskers’ Gator Bowl win over Georgia, including one that went for a 99-yard score in the third quarter that put the Huskers up for good. But Armstrong threw for only nine touchdowns and added eight interceptions on the season.
And as many positives as there were for Armstrong as he was rushed into a starting role a year earlier than expected, consistency was not something the Huskers experienced under center. Even after Martinez was injured, his status was a question on a weekly basis. It was never known until late in a game week whether Martinez would play or not, at least publicly. Additionally, head coach Bo Pelini was fond of inserting senior backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III into games quite often. It was Kellogg who actually led the team in completions and who threw the most memorable pass of the season: the Hail Mary to Jordan Westerkamp that sent the Huskers to a thrilling victory over Northwestern.
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But heading into 2014, Armstrong is the guy. Martinez and Kellogg are gone. Armstrong is one of the eldest quarterbacks in a unit half comprised of freshmen. But pending the unforeseen — an injury or play so horrendous it warrants a benching, the latter unlikely — Nebraska will see some quarterbacking consistency following a season of nothing but upheaval at the position. Throw in a season and offseason of experience under Armstrong’s belt, and 2014 should prove a much better year for the Huskers at quarterback.
Plus Nebraska boasts the defending Big Ten leading rusher in Ameer Abdullah. There’s no better security blanket for a quarterback than turning around and handing the ball to that guy.