Think what Tommy Armstrong might have looked like if he actually got a little shut-eye.
“Honestly, I couldn’t even sleep last night,” the Husker freshman quarterback admitted Saturday.
It’s OK. The bags under his eyes weren’t noticeable. Neither were the nerves.
Nebraska’s backup quarterbacks, called to action with Taylor Martinez sidelined with turf toe, took the keys to the car and got it around the track just fine in a 59-20 win against South Dakota State at Memorial Stadium.
On a day when the Husker defense still produced more questions than answers, the offense did as it pleased, posting 645 yards and punting only once — with six minutes left in the game.
Earning his first career start, Armstrong piled up 207 yards of offense. Playing nearly as much, Kellogg had 143. They combined to complete 20 of 24 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns.
Armstrong said he’d been thinking about this day since the first time he set foot on campus.
“My whole objective is pretty much to compete to be the No. 1 guy,” he said.
Yeah, about that.
No doubt the quarterback conversation will be a hot subject around Nebraska the next two weeks before the Huskers open Big Ten play against Illinois on Oct. 5.
Also know this: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said after Saturday’s win that Martinez is “clearly our guy.”
“This was a setup for failure for Taylor basically,” Beck said. “You’re going out there and those guys are going to have an opportunity to make plays. … Taylor’s proven to me. He can win in the big ballgames. He can bring our team back. He’s done it. He’s done it on the road. He’s done it at home. So. …”
So Beck isn’t interested in any hypothetical talk regarding Nebraska’s quarterback situation right now.
“To give all those scenarios with the what-ifs, I don’t even want to start playing that card right now,” he said. “He’s the quarterback until somebody beats him out.”
And while Nebraska’s quarterbacks were plenty good Saturday, some perspective goes with it.
The Jackrabbit defense that the Huskers lit up allowed an average of 412 yards to Butler, North Dakota and Southeastern Louisiana the first three weeks.
Still, Armstrong’s starting debut deserves an "A" grade on its efficiency alone.
It also came after the most hectic of weeks, following a 20-point loss to UCLA and controversy regarding a 2-year-old leaked audiotape of Husker head coach Bo Pelini going on a rant about the fans.
It seemed most Husker fans were ready to move beyond the issue Saturday. If there were any boos, they were drowned out by the cheers for Pelini and his team as they took the field.
If it was a hard week inside Husker camp, it was also a special one, said longtime assistant Ron Brown.
“Probably the most special ones I’ve been associated with at Nebraska in the 23 years I’ve been here,” Brown said. “Because, I think there was just a lot of authenticity, a lot of great talks, a lot of great communication between coaches and players. To see these guys, our whole team pull together, starting with Bo, just pointing the thumb rather than the index finger, and then dealing with it, facing up and squaring up.
“I’ve been a part of three national championship teams and a lot of great games. But the greatest thing in the world is the forgiveness of God. You get a clean slate from God. It starts there. And then it permeates with each other. This team came together and put together a good ballgame in the midst of a lot of adversity.”
As Pelini left the field, fans in the northwest corner of the stadium cheered. He raised his right hand in salute.
In the locker room, senior captain Spencer Long handed him a game ball.
“We know our true identity and attitude of the team, of the head coach, and of the coaches around him,” said another captain, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa. “So we knew we just had to go out there and rally for our coach.”
It helps when the freshman quarterback directs two 66-yard touchdown drives to start the game. The first drive took just four plays and 91 seconds, finishing with Armstrong running a textbook option play, pitching the ball to Imani Cross for a 5-yard score.
The problem was, Nebraska’s defense was an absolute mess on its first two series. South Dakota State scored a touchdown on four plays, then another one on five plays.
Talented SDSU running back Zach Zenner, who ran for more than 2,000 yards a season ago, had more than 100 yards halfway through the first quarter.
He finished with 202 yards on 21 carries, and probably would have piled on more if his coaches had not held him out in the fourth quarter with the Jackrabbits facing their big game against two-time FCS defending national champion North Dakota State next week.
All told, South Dakota State put up 465 yards of offense.
“I just told the defense that they have to make up their mind of what we’re going to be and how we’re going to approach it,” Pelini said. “We can’t play like that.”
Because of that porous play, SDSU led 17-14 after the first quarter.
But this time, it was Nebraska that scored 38 unanswered points, leading 52-17 after three quarters.
Pelini said he liked the way both Armstrong and Kellogg “locked into that huddle with a lot of swagger.”
Kellogg said it didn’t hurt to have Martinez lending his two cents from the sideline.
Granted, there was an initial hiccup. Martinez had some issues turning on his headset at the game's start.
It got turned on. So did the Husker offense.
“It was awesome being able to come onto the sideline and talk football with him,” Kellogg said. “He’s the No. 1 stat leader in Nebraska history, so it was kind of surreal. Plus, he’s my roommate, so I get to tease him about it later. I’ll give him some tips on how to work the headset next time.”