The focus of Nebraska’s turbulent week has switched from that leaked audio of coach Bo Pelini’s profane rant against fans two years ago to a tenuous quarterback situation.
Fourth-year starter Taylor Martinez is doubtful for Saturday’s game against South Dakota State because of a turf toe injury on his left foot that has kept him out of practice all week. Coach Bo Pelini said Thursday night that redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. would probably start against the Football Championship Subdivision’s Jackrabbits (3-0).
Fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III is also expected to play.
Kellogg replaced Martinez, ahead of Armstrong, in the third quarter of the 56-13 win over Southern Mississippi on Sept. 7.
Kellogg has appeared in five games in his career and has three rushes for 12 yards and has completed 8 of 16 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. Armstrong ran four times for 23 yards in his only appearance, against Southern Miss.
”Ronny is an experienced guy, has a lot of confidence and can really throw it around,” Pelini said.
Armstrong is more of a dual threat who was sharp running the triple-option in his limited action against Southern Miss.
”He’s a great leader and has a great command presence about him,” Pelini said.
Pelini is finishing perhaps his most challenging week in his six years at Nebraska. The Huskers (2-1) are coming off a 41-21 loss to UCLA in a game they led by 18 points in the second quarter. It was the biggest blown lead by Nebraska at 90-year-old Memorial Stadium.
Two days later, the conversation turned to the release of audio of Pelini’s profane rant against fans and two sports writers minutes after the October 2011 win over Ohio State. Pelini’s rant, posted by the sports website Deadspin.com, occurred off air before he taped his postgame radio show.
Pelini made a public apology Monday night, but there was a question whether he would coach Saturday. University officials issued a statement Wednesday saying the matter was being put to rest. There was no mention of disciplinary action against Pelini.
Pelini instructed his players to not worry about the fallout.
”This is a situation that involves me and just stick with your football and focusing on what you have to do,” Pelini said he told them. ”It’s a situation that I need to deal with personally.”
Five things to watch when the Huskers play the Jackrabbits:
1. FAN REACTION: Pelini said he couldn’t predict how fans insulted by his expletive-filled rant will react to him when he enters the stadium during the traditional Tunnel Walk.
”I would think the rational people out there would understand,” he said, ”that a lot of times you say things you don’t necessarily mean.”
2. SIMPLIFYING OFFENSE: Whether Martinez plays or not, the Huskers plan to condense their offensive repertoire. Instead of practicing a wide variety of plays during the week, they focused on doing fewer things better.
The Huskers generated only 135 yards in the second half against UCLA.
3. TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: South Dakota State played a sixth-ranked Nebraska within 17-3 in 2010, a week after Martinez and the Huskers had dazzled the nation with a big road win over Washington. If the Huskers looked past the Jackrabbits in 2010, they won’t this time, Pelini said.
”They are going to be sound in what they do,” Pelini said. ”They won’t be really fancy, but they’ll be sound and aggressive.”
4. ZENNER’S A WINNER: South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner is the best back in the FCS, averaging a nation-leading 180 yards after going for more than 2,000 last season.
Zenner runs behind a big and veteran offensive line that will test Nebraska’s defensive front.
”Zenner definitely instills some extra confidence, especially for the offensive line,” SDSU offensive tackle Bryan Witzmann said. ”If we hit up our blocks, he can be gone. He’s got breakaway speed, and he can showcase it.”
5. HOMECOMING: Twelve native Nebraskans are on the South Dakota State roster, including four starters.
Naturally, this is a red-letter game for guys like center Taylor Suess, who grew up in Columbus, Neb.
”It definitely gives us a chip on our shoulders,” he said. ”I’ve had a lot of doubters even since high school who said I couldn’t play at the Division I level anywhere. That’s why one of the biggest reasons I wanted to play at SDSU was to prove those people wrong, and now that I get to show it against my home state, that’s great.”