With Martinez out, Spartans' defense prepares for Armstrong
If Nebraska senior quarterback Taylor Martinez made the following statement about MSU, few would raise an eyebrow.
“They are one of the best defenses in the country … but at the same time, they can be beat. Our offense, when we’re clicking, we’re clicking. I don’t think anybody in this country can stop us when we’re doing our thing.”
After all, Martinez was the catalyst of Nebraska’s pair of wins against the Spartans since joining the Big Ten in the 2011 season. In MSU’s two losses to the Cornhuskers — by scores of 24-3 and 28-24 — the dual-threat Martinez accounted for 507 total yards and five touchdowns.
But those words came from the mouth of redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who is 5-0 since replacing Martinez under center this season while the four-year starter tends to a foot injury. It’s a bold statement for a young player entering his first encounter with the Spartans, who rank in the top-five nationally in total, scoring, rushing and passing defense.
Martinez won’t be MSU’s kryptonite this season — or anyone else’s, it appears. On Monday, his father told the Associated Press that Martinez has a “debilitating injury” that might not heal until February or March.
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said “I don’t know if the chances are really good. It’s not a good injury to have,” regarding Martinez on the same day.
The Cornhuskers have turned to Armstrong, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound native of Cibolo, Texas, as their starter. Fortunately for Nebraska, his skill set mirrors that of Martinez as a more-than capable runner and serviceable passer. Flanked in the backfield by the Big Ten’s leading rusher in running back Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska remains a formidable threat offensively with its trademark option attack.
When the situation calls for a more aerial attack, though – as seen in a last-second Hail Mary win against Northwestern — the Cornhuskers have swapped Armstrong with senior Ron Kellogg III, a senior and more polished thrower.
Head coach Mark Dantonio said there’s a noticeable difference in philosophy with each quarterback.
“But the difference between Armstrong and Martinez (is) experience, but I think they’re going to try and do the same things with Armstrong long‑term that they do with Martinez,” Dantonio said. “Taylor was such a great runner that could take it the distance as you saw last year when something broke down or whatever the case. So he’s a very good football player, but I do think that Tommy Armstrong is an exceptional football player as a redshirt freshman, and to take on that responsibility, he’s doing a tremendous job.”
In the six games he’s played in this fall, Armstrong has thrown for 659 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions while adding 166 yards and two scores on the ground. He’ll square off against the ferocious Spartan defense playing behind a patchwork offensive line with multiple starters sidelined for the year or facing uncertain timetables to return.
“Tommy Armstrong is not going to be intimidated,” Pelini said at his press conference Monday. “That much I know. He’s going to be challenged, I can tell you that. He’s going to be challenged because (MSU is) good.”