Nebraska Cornhuskers: Sam Burtch

Big Ten lunch links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:00
PM ET
Sure looked like Eddie Johnson was onside to me. I'll count it as another rivalry win.
  • Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner joined in the tradition of poking fun at a rival during a fundraising event with fans. Should anybody be offended by his canned jokes?
  • Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded to Warinner's comments with a bit of humor of his own.
  • Mark Dantonio doesn't usually hold press conferences to talk about one player, but the recruitment of Malik McDowell called for some discussion of how it all went down for Michigan State.
  • Penn State tight end Adam Breneman will be on the shelf for the rest of spring practice thanks to a bone bruise in his knee.
  • Nebraska wide receiver Sam Burtch is a no-nonsense guy, and his businesslike approach could be a boost for the offense this fall.
  • Mark Weisman saw plenty of room to grow after reviewing every carry from last season, and the Iowa running back might need to improve to keep getting most of the carries in a crowded backfield.
  • Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert's speed isn't up for debate based on his times on the track. The next thing he has to do is prove he can be physical on the football field.
  • Illinois is looking for more team speed on defense, and the early returns from spring practice suggest the unit might be getting faster.
  • Yet another Big Ten tight end is currently stuck on the sideline during spring practice, and like the others, Tyler Kroft is trying to make the most of it.
  • Deon Long is now "90 percent" healthy, but he's well on the way to getting back and helping Maryland at wide receiver.
LINCOLN, Neb. – Spring is for competition. Preparation can largely wait until August. Now is the time to wage battles on the practice field.

Nebraska is 60 percent finished with spring practice. Just five workouts remain until the April 12 Red-White game, for which more than 41,000 tickets have been sold.

At some positions, this time has served only to more deeply entrench top players. I-back Ameer Abdullah, receiver Kenny Bell, cornerback Josh Mitchell, defensive end Randy Gregory and left guard Jake Cotton need not worry about losing their starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeSam Burtch
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesSam Burtch, who Bo Pelini says is headed for a scholarship, continues to impress after three touchdown catches in 2013.
Others, such as left tackle Alex Lewis, nickelback Charles Jackson and safety LeRoy Alexander, have made strong moves to win positions.

Here’s a look at the three battles that have only intensified as the spring progressed:

  • Cornerback opposite Mitchell. With the departure of Stanley Jean-Baptiste, junior Jonathan Rose appeared poised to win a starting spot this spring. Rose had the advantage of two years in the program after transferring in 2012 from Auburn. A former elite recruit out of Alabama, he worked primarily with the top defense early in spring. But as Jackson emerged at nickel, the Huskers felt comfortable shifting newcomer Byerson Cockrell to cornerback. Now, Rose, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, and the 6-foot, 185-pound Cockrell, who played safety last year in junior college, look nearly interchangeable at corner. “I like everything about Byerson Cockrell,” coach Bo Pelini said on Monday. “I think he’s physical. I think he’s really picked things up well. He’s fast. He competes. He can change direction. He plays with an attitude. He’s going to help us.”
  • Middle linebacker. Sophomore Michael Rose began the spring with a sizable edge over the competition to remain as the Huskers’ No. 1 option in the heart of the defense. Rose, who recorded a Nebraska freshman-record 66 tackles last year, figures hold his starting job, but he has competition. Classmate Josh Banderas took snaps ahead of Rose with the first-team defense on Monday, Pelini said. He said the Huskers want to continue to “tweak” the spot and ensure versatility. More than likely, they also want to push Rose, who made 40 tackles in the Huskers’ final four regular-season games, including 17 against Iowa. Banderas, who played well at time as a freshman last fall, had worked primarily at Buck linebacker this spring. The shifts Monday, as Nebraska returned from a 10-day break, no doubt, reminded all among a young group of linebackers that the competition remains fierce.
  • Wide receiver. Aside from Bell, who is on track to leave Nebraska after next season with an armful of career records, competition continues at slot receiver between sure-handed sophomore Jordan Westerkamp and senior big-play threat Jamal Turner. The other starting spot, though, looks just as intriguing as juniors Taariq Allen and Sam Burtch compete for snaps. It has been a breakout spring for Allen, who was slowed by injury and caught just three passes last year. But the development of Burtch, who walked on out of Murdock, Neb., is just as notable. He caught 12 passes last fall, including three touchdowns, and keeps getting better, Pelini said. “The guy understands how to play football. He’s big. He’s physical. He’s fast. There’s a lot of different things he does to help our football team. On top of that, he’s a great character kid and a big-time leader.” Burtch has developed into a favorite option of Armstrong in practice. Asked if Burtch has been placed on scholarship, Pelini said, “If he’s not, he will be soon.” Congrats in advance, Sam.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska has completed three practices -- 20 percent of its spring workload -- with five sessions set for the next week before a weeklong break. Yes, it goes fast at this time of year.

Already, storylines are taking shape. Here are a few of the most interesting topics from the opening week:
    [+] EnlargeNebraska
    Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsTommy Armstrong Jr. has seized control of the quarterbacks group and taken the most reps with the first team so far this spring.
  • Tommy Armstrong Jr. is taking charge. Perhaps even more than expected, Armstrong has embraced his new role as leader of the quarterbacks. Nebraska coaches have made it clear in practice that he’s the man. Armstrong receives the majority of repetitions with the No. 1 offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is a clear No. 2, and the experiment with Jamal Turner largely fizzled out after two practices. Sure, Turner may still factor in packages next fall, but Armstrong looks like the man for the job to direct this offense after starting eight games a redshirt freshman.

  • Look everywhere for leadership. Sure, teammates look to seniors like Ameer Abdullah, Jake Cotton, Kenny Bell and Corey Cooper. Josh Mitchell has emerged in the secondary. The defensive linemen watch Randy Gregory. Michael Rose, though just a sophomore, is a natural as quarterback of the defense. But key figures on the practice field come from all backgrounds. For example, senior linebacker Trevor Roach and junior receiver Sam Burtch, both of whom came to Nebraska as walk-ons, show up often in practice as two of the Huskers’ hardest workers. Teammates notice them too. Their work ethic makes a difference.

  • As advertised at linebacker. As soon as the full pads came out on Wednesday, the intensity increased. And Nebraska’s linebackers made their presence known. Tackling was not on the agenda, but that didn’t stop senior Zaire Anderson from delivering a few big hits. Anderson looks ready to make the most of his final season. Rose and David Santos have grown comfortable in their roles, and Josh Banderas has settled into a versatile spot. Coach Bo Pelini said the linebackers, as a group, have progressed to “another galaxy” from a year ago. Just wait until redshirt freshmen Courtney Love and Marcus Newby settle into roles.

  • Keep an eye of the young safeties. Even without Cooper, Nebraska’s top tackler last season who’s fighting a foot injury, the duo in the middle of the secondary rates as one of the most promising on the field. Sophomores Nathan Gerry and LeRoy Alexander have worked with the top defense. Both showed flashes a year ago and bring excellent athleticism. Behind them, though, redshirt freshmen Drake Martinez and D.J. Singleton appear just as talented. If new secondary coach Charlton Warren harnesses the potential of these safeties, he may have a special group on his hands by the end of 2014.

  • A crowded backfield. The nation’s top returning rusher doesn’t need to fear for his starting spot. In fact, Abdullah’s prowess is something to behold. But the guys behind him aren’t getting complacent. Top backup Imani Cross, who scored a team-high 10 touchdowns last season, has added weight to more resemble his shape as a freshman two years ago. Terrell Newby looks ready to assume a more important job, particularly as a pass catcher. And the new guy to the mix, redshirt freshman Adam Taylor, might possess the best mix of physical attributes of any back in the group. The Huskers want to get creative with personnel groupings, so don’t be surprised to see more of the two-back sets next seasons.

It’s getting close now. Spring practice starts on Saturday at Nebraska. Can you feel it?

We’ve spent the past three weeks counting down the position groups with most room to improve, the top players to watch and position battles. Now is the time for predictions.

Let’s get to it, with No. 5:

A receiver is going to break out

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsNebraska has no worries about top returning WR Kenny Bell, but who will emerge as the No. 2 target?
Senior Kenny Bell is set to challenge school records next season for career receptions and receiving yardage. He’s the top target of Nebraska’s quarterback, for sure.

Bell can’t do it alone. And he won’t have to.

Though the Huskers lose Quincy Enunwa -- likely to be just the second Nebraska receiver to land in the NFL draft in the past decade -- plenty of talent exists to fill his shoes.

Candidates include sophomore Jordan Westerkamp, already etched in Nebraska history for his Hail-Mary grab last year to beat Northwestern; oft-injured senior Jamal Turner, who has game-breaking ability; junior Taariq Allen; junior Sam Burtch and redshirt freshman Kevin Gladney.

Sophomore Alonzo Moore, who started two games last season, is out this spring with an injury.

Rich Fisher in three seasons has earned his stripes as a receivers coach. He worked wonders with Bell and Enunwa. Westerkamp, too, shows promise and stands as the most likely of the prospects to take on a major role in the Nebraska passing game.

If Monte Harrison turns down pro baseball and makes it to practice in August as a freshman, he might jump into the lineup quickly and bolster what looks like an already strong group of receivers. For now, though, the Huskers go to work without him.

Six weeks from now, expect to find a solid second option behind Bell.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers, Football Recruiting, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Alex Erickson, Jared Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick, Kenzel Doe, Allen Robinson, Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Garrett Dickerson, Shane Wynn, Devin Smith, Jeremy Gallon, Drake Harris, Geronimo Allison, Sam Burtch, Cethan Carter, Tony Jones, Danny Anthrop, Dontre Wilson, Christian Jones, Kofi Hughes, Ted Bolser, Jalin Marshall, james clark, Gabe Holmes, Josh Ferguson, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Justin Sinz, Nick Stoner, Adam Breneman, Richy Anderson, Steve Hull, Johnnie Dixon, Cameron Posey, Damond Powell, Danny Etling, Corey Brown, Jordan Westerkamp, MacGarrett Kings, Cody Latimer, Devin Funchess, Jacob Pedersen, DeAngelo Yancey, Chris Godwin, Jake Duzey, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Kyle Carter, Maxx Williams, Dan Vitale, Keith Mumphery, Drew Dileo, Dominique Booth, Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky, Josiah Price, Martize Barr, Tony Lippett, Austin Appleby, Saeed Blacknall, Brandon Coleman, Robert Wheelwright, Tevaun Smith, B1G spring positions 14, Aaron Burbridge, Amara Darboh, Amba Etta-Tawo, Andre Patton, Brandon Felder, Cameron Dickerson, Carlton Agudosi, Dave Stinebaugh, Deon Long, Duwyce Wilson, Evan Spencer, Geno Lewis, Isaac Fruechte, Isaiah Roundtree, Jehu Chesson, Jesse James, Jon Davis, Jordan Fuchs, Leonte Carroo, Levern Jacobs, Marcus Leak, Matt LaCosse, Michael Thomas, Miles Shuler, Nigel King, Quron Pratt, Ruhann Peele, Sam Arneson, Stefon Diggs, Taariq Allen, Tyler Kroft

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
10:00
AM ET
Nebraska won for the eighth consecutive time in a game decided by seven points or less. Here’s what we learned in the Cornhuskers 23-20 win over Penn State:

[+] EnlargePat Smith
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsNebraska's special teams came through in a big way against Penn State.
Special teams can be a plus for Nebraska: The Huskers decidedly won the kicking game for the first time this month. Brandon Reilly blocked a punt. Kenny Bell returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Pat Smith kicked three field goals, including a 42-yarder in overtime to win the game. He made the game-winner twice, in fact, after Givens Price was flagged for a false-start penalty on the first attempt from 37 yards. Meanwhile, Penn State’s Sam Ficken missed an extra point that loomed large and a field goal from 37 yards in overtime that put the Huskers in position to win. Nebraska still struggled to generate traction on punt returns, but hey, let’s not split hairs after that performance.

There’s no quit in this team: This we knew before Saturday, but the circumstances changed after Nebraska lost to Michigan State, eliminating the Huskers from contention for a league title. Nebraska is a beaten-up team five weeks into a brutal, six-week stretch, and it played just as hard and determined as ever at Beaver Stadium. Credit the Huskers for their resolve after a bad personal foul call on Sam Burtch negated an Ameer Abdullah touchdown in the fourth quarter. Nebraska kept its composure and, despite a few close calls, tied the game. It dug out of a hole on its final possession and won it in overtime. On paper, Penn State had more motivation on Senior Day in search of a winning season, but the Huskers played like a team that wanted it just as badly.

The quarterback rotation paid off: Questions persisted through October as Nebraska played Ron Kellogg III for a series or two in the first half after Tommy Armstrong Jr. took over the starting spot from the injured Taylor Martinez. At times, the insertion of Kellogg appeared to disrupt the offensive rhythm. If he didn’t prove the value of the two-QB system with his game-winning drive against Northwestern, Kellogg succeeded in showing on Saturday the reason behind it. He relieved Armstrong, slowed by an ankle injury, after three series and drove the Huskers to a touchdown on his first possession. From there, Kellogg settled in and executed the game plan. Kellogg wasn’t spectacular, but he largely avoided mistakes. Without the experience gained this season, who knows if Kellogg could have performed as well against the Nittany Lions.

Big Ten's lunch links

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
12:00
PM ET
How can there only be two weeks left in the regular season? Can we file for an extension?
  • Michigan State can impress off the field, too. The Spartans break down some of their dance moves after they were caught on camera celebrating the win over Nebraska.
  • Brady Hoke defended his decision after coming up short on a late gamble last week before Michigan ultimately won its game vs. Northwestern.
  • The run of success Minnesota has been on lately is building buzz from alumni, which could help sustain the program into the future.
  • Wisconsin is dealing with some health concerns at center, which could be a problem as its offensive line tries to slow down Minnesota "freak" Ra'Shede Hageman.
  • Senior day for Ohio State will provide an opportunity to pay tribute to an invaluable group of four veterans on the offensive line. It's also a reminder that it will soon have to replace them all.
  • Once a "gangly gazelle," Sam Burtch has filled out his frame and is becoming an impact receiver for Nebraska.
  • Iowa still has memories of what Devin Gardner did to its defense last season, and it has made an emphasis on avoiding a repeat performance against Michigan on Saturday.
  • Indiana has been at its worst on the road and in bad weather, which might not be the best formula for visiting Ohio State late in the year.
  • Pat Zerbe's dream to play at Penn State came true, and he will put the finishing touches on his career at home this weekend.
  • Tim Beckman's back is to the wall, and there's already talk that the Illinois coach may need to beat Purdue to save his job.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Somebody’s going to bring it up if for no reason other than because Nebraska is entering a bye week and the defense is a depressing topic and he throws such a pretty ball.

Why not go with Tommy Armstrong?

The redshirt freshman quarterback looked spectacular in his starting debut, a 59-20 Husker victory over South Dakota State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium -- in his own way just as good as another redshirt freshman who got everyone so excited three years ago this month.

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsRedshirt freshman signal-caller Tommy Armstrong was nearly flawless in the Cornhuskers' win over South Dakota State.
Armstrong commanded the offense with precision in place of injured senior Taylor Martinez.

He led five drives. Four went for touchdowns. The other ended when Kenny Bell fumbled after a catch and run to the SDSU 10-yard line. Armstrong finished 12-of-15 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown. He rushed five times for 38 yards. He didn’t commit a turnover.

“It’s what we’ve been saying, since he’s been here,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “He’s just a gamer. That’s what he is. He thrives in situations like this and played extremely well.”

Freshmen quarterbacks create a sparkle in the eye of every fan. They offer a promise of something better.

Stop right there, though. This is Martinez’s team. Sure, he has looked out of sync this year, especially last week in a 41-21 loss to UCLA. He has yet to prove he can lead Nebraska to a championship.

But before the subject gains steam and the crowd here grows restless when the offense sputters behind Martinez for a couple series in Big Ten play, remember this: Armstrong will have his day. Soon, too. It’s just not now, as long as Martinez is healthy.

Martinez started 32 straight games before Saturday and 43 in his career, more than any Nebraska quarterback.

He’s not Wally Pipp.

And Armstrong is not the answer. Not yet, anyway.

That said, wow, the kid looked good. Armstrong faced just four third downs on his five possessions. The Huskers converted all of them, two on Armstrong completions to go-to receiver Quincy Enunwa and two on runs by Imani Cross.

Armstrong played with a swagger. Coach Bo Pelini mentioned it after the game. Armstrong set the tempo. He got the Huskers off fast, a problem before Saturday. Nebraska ate chunks of yardage on its first possession, covering 24 yards, 13, 28 and 5 for the touchdown.

“It took us back to summer,” Armstrong said. “When our number is called, we have to set the tone. That’s one thing we did, we set the tone for the defense.”

Armstrong said he couldn’t sleep on Friday night.

The quarterback envisioned this moment since he arrived last year from Texas, where he directed Cibolo Steele to a pair of 5A title-game appearances. Armstrong learned how to lead from running back Malcolm Brown and defensive tackle Marquis Anderson, who left Steele before Armstrong for Texas and Oklahoma, respectively.

So when the moment arrived this week, he embraced it.

And when South Dakota State answered his opening pair of touchdown drives with scores of its own and Armstrong turned the offense to Ron Kellogg III, only to watch the Huskers lose a fumble and FCS-level Jackrabbits go ahead, the young QB gathered teammates on the sideline.

“I told them, ‘Hey, don’t worry, we’re going to go down and score and get a stop,' " he said “That’s pretty much the mindset.”

It happened. He returned after Kellogg directed a TD march and led an 11-play, 80-yard drive, hitting Sam Burtch for 16 yards in the end zone.

On the touchdown, Cethan Carter flashed wide open before Armstrong hesitated a bit and found Burtch near the corner.

South Dakota State was slow to react. A better defense might have made Armstrong pay. That’s about the only critique of him from this game. And it’s a stretch.

Armstrong showed no sign of losing his rhythm by sitting out after his first two drives, then for two more after his third possession -- a difficult ask of any quarterback, let alone a freshman in his first start.

“He handled it like a pro,” Kellogg said.

Pelini said he learned nothing about Armstrong that he didn’t already know. And Pelini doesn’t care if the performance came against South Dakota State or Michigan State.

“I look at the execution,” said Pelini, whose team opens league play in two weeks against Illinois. “It doesn’t matter who you’re executing against.”

Armstrong learned he would start from Beck after Pelini told the media on Tuesday that it appeared likely. At the end of a difficult week for the program following the loss to UCLA and a storm of controversy around the coach, a big ovation greeted Armstrong as he took the field.

Of course. He’s the freshman, the fresh face. But don’t go there. It’s not time.

Here’s what we learned: Armstrong, after Saturday, owns the edge next spring over Johnny Stanton, who’s redshirting this fall, when Martinez and Kellogg are gone.

For some, considering the apparent stalled progress of this program, the future can’t get here fast enough.

Week 2 helmet stickers

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
11:00
AM ET
LINCOLN, Neb. -- The top performances on Saturday in Nebraska’s 56-13 rout of Southern Miss.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste: Give it to him for a second straight week, though this just as easily applies to the entire defensive backfield. It was the 6-foot-3 senior, though, who made the biggest statement by baiting USM quarterback Allan Bridgford on the third play from scrimmage and taking an interception 43 yards to the house. Nebraska’s quickest defensive score to start a game since 1996 set the tone on Saturday.

DE Randy Gregory: His four quarterback hurries tell just part of the story. The juco transfer consistently showed his skill as an elite pass rusher, bursting into the backfield from a variety of positions along the defensive line. Gregory notched one tackle behind the line of scrimmage and one breakup, but his presence demands attention moving forward.

WR Sam Burtch: Check your rosters, Nebraska fans. He’s a walk-on sophomore from little Murdock, Neb., and his first career reception went 26-yard touchdown from Taylor Martinez early in the fourth quarter. Playing in his sixth game, Burtch won’t often stand out among the Huskers’ deep and talented receiving corps, but he made the most of his opportunity on Saturday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Moving Day For Maryland And Rutgers
It's moving day for Maryland and Rutgers. Adam Rittenberg takes a look at how -- and why -- the two schools are making a move to the Big Ten.