I admit it. After the game, I was tired of Tommy Armstrong as Nebraska's starting quarterback as many others were tired of Taylor Martinez two and three years ago. I wanted to fly off the handle like a World-Herald columnist with a rant calling for somebody - ANYBODY - to take over at quarterback. A championship-level defense is starting to emerge in Lincoln, but now the pendulum has swung back...and now it's the offense holding the team back.
Since then, I've calmed down and listened to Bo Pelini's remark that receivers ran the wrong routes on Armstrong's two interceptions. I also replayed part of the game and noted that on Armstrong's near-interception midway through the fourth quarter, Kenny Bell changed his route suddenly just as Armstrong threw. Clearly that was why Armstrong was so upset after the play. So some of Armstrong's issues have to go on his receiver corps.
Fair or not, quarterbacks take most of the credit - and the blame - for what happens offensively. And at first glance, Armstrong's numbers pale in comparison to the first two seasons for the oft-criticized Martinez. Completion percentage: Martinez with 59% as a freshman, 56% as a sophomore, compared to Armstrong's 52% and 53% respectively. Touchdown/interception ratio: Martinez 10/7 as a freshman, then 13/8 as a sophomore, while Armstrong was 9/8, and now 13/8. And while Armstrong has improved greatly in running the ball, he's no Taylor Martinez with his feet. So when Armstrong doesn't run or throw as well as Martinez in his first two seasons, it's only natural to call for somebody else.
Especially with a four star recruit sitting on the bench.
However, this is where we have to put some trust in the coaching staff to know what they are doing. In 2007, Bill Callahan told us before the season that the competition between Sam Keller and Joe Ganz was really, really close. Most fans scoffed at the idea, as Ganz was the two star recruit and Keller was projected to be a first-round draft pick. Then the season began, and the offense struggled all season long with Keller. Callahan stuck with his quarterback until Keller's collarbone gave way against Texas, forcing Callahan to turn to Ganz...and Ganz proved himself the better quarterback. Callahan tried to take credit for coaching Ganz into that role, but the larger indictment of Callahan is that Callahan never played the better quarterback (even though his team was underperforming) until he had no choice.
We've since learned that Nebraska really didn't have much of an alternative to Taylor Martinez in 2011; four-star freshman Brion Carnes never emerged in Lincoln and isn't even the clear-cut starter for Division 1-AA Northern Iowa. Go back to 1997, when fans clamored for Frankie London over Scott Frost...only to realize by 1998 that London was a better wingback than quarterback. The coaches knew what they had in 1997 and 2011 and wisely didn't give in to unfounded criticism.
So is criticism of Armstrong unfounded at this point? The jury is still out, but it's important to note that Pelini and his staff aren't showing any signs of waffling on their choice...and they were proven right in the end about Martinez.
Unfortunately, the yo-yo/pendulum nature of a Bo Pelini team continues. When the defense is good, the offense isn't...and vice versa. We're now seeing a pretty good defense starting to emerge, but suddenly, the offense is tanking. And that's frustrating for everybody because one month ago, Husker fans were hoping to somehow break into the discussion for the college football playoff.
Now, we're hoping to get to Indianapolis.
So here's the report card for a Purdue game. Give us your feedback in the comments below.
QB: Armstrong has improved tremendously as a runner; he's more decisive than he was last season. But as a passer, he still refuses to go through his progressions. He missed a wide-open Kenny Bell in the first quarter, choosing instead to throw into double coverage towards Jordan Westerkamp. And while Pelini said that on both interceptions, receivers ran the wrong routes, Armstrong still threw into coverage. And while both Mark Pelini and Ryne Reeves have gotten errant with snaps, Armstrong hasn't been all that great catching them either. That botched fourth and goal snap in the first quarter was all on Armstrong. (Even worse, it was the play where Abdullah strained his MCL.) Grade: D
I-Back: Ameer Abdullah didn't have any success running the ball prior to his injury. Imani Cross and Terrell Newby didn't have much afterwards. It just wasn't there as Purdue stacked the box and dared Nebraska to throw. Grade: C-
WR: There were receivers open out there at times; whether they were supposed to be where they were is another question entirely. There were multiple instances where Armstrong and his receivers weren't on the same page Saturday. And then a few drops as well, just to make things uglier. Grade: D+
OL: There wasn't a lot of running room, but it wasn't completely the line's fault...not when Purdue was throwing the book at Nebraska with nine and sometimes ten men in the box. Purdue wisely challenged Nebraska to throw the ball, and Nebraska couldn't do that. The biggest issue on the line was the inability to snap the ball. Ryne Reeves was a little worse than Mark Pelini in that respect. I seriously wonder if it's now becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the more they worry about getting the snap right, the more it goes awry. Grade: D+
DL: Nebraska's interior defensive tackles had a great game, starting with Maliek Collins. Vincent Valentine played well as well. The ends were a little dicey; Randy Gregory found himself out of position on Purdue's first touchdown of the game. Grade: A-
LB: Zaire Anderson was a big part of Nebraska's early dominance in the game, and led the Huskers with 11 tackles. Trevor Roach seemed to be in position to make a few plays, but couldn't, though. And I'm still not sure that David Santos is 100%. Hopefully a bye week gets him closer. Grade: B+
Secondary: Nate Gerry is becoming the star of this defense with yet another interception. Actually looked like Gerry was the intended receiver on that second-quarter throw. Corey Cooper did have eight tackles, but appeared to be the man who got lost and forgot about Cameron Posey on Purdue's second touchdown. Daniel Davie and Byerson Cockrell also looked pretty good in pass coverage, though it might make more sense for Cockrell to not try to return any interceptions in the future. Grade: A-
Special Teams: First the bad: a missed field goal and a shanked punt. But then there is the good. Remember last year, when forcing a punt on defense brought on a worried feeling? De'Mornay Pierson-El has become a legitimate punt return weapon, and this week, Pelini and his staff identified a wrinkle in Purdue's punting unit that led to two blocks. Wee! Grade: A-
Overall: C+ A 21-point victory usually isn't something to be worried about...but with the way this game started, it could have legitimately been a 56-7 victory. Nebraska's offense could get away with this against Purdue with the way the Blackshirts were playing. Not the rest of the season. No way. These problems have to get worked out over the bye week. They have to.
Officiating: F Bo Pelini may have gotten flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the biggest offense was the incompetence of this crew. On that play clock issue where Nebraska had to take a timeout, the officials started the play clock well before ABC came out of commercial. When ABC came back to game action, it was down to six seconds left on the play clock...and the official was still standing over the ball to prevent the snap. And head referee Dan Capron was completely befuddled on that fourth-quarter fumble when he inadvertently ruled that Purdue had recovered a fumble. When you are doing your job really poorly and someone calls you on it, you need to own your screwups rather than throw a revenge flag on them.
Elsewhere in College Football
Iowa: A So now you've finally found a running game? Good for you! It's only November.
Notre Dame: C- Most people were too busy watching the end of Ole Miss and Auburn to pay much attention to the Domers struggle with the Navy.
South Carolina: F The ol' ball coach has done checked out.
Wisconsin: A How the hell did the Badgers lose to Northwestern again?