Nebraska vs. South Dakota State: Storylines

2013-09-20T19:00:00Z Nebraska vs. South Dakota State: StorylinesBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star

1. Tommy or Ronnie?

For 32 straight games, the man starting at quarterback for Nebraska has been named Taylor Martinez. It appears that will change Saturday. The dreaded turf toe claims another casualty. It means a starting opportunity for either redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong or senior Ron Kellogg III. Bo Pelini said Thursday that both QBs will play, but coaches were leaning toward giving the start to Armstrong. You'd expect that. He's the future. He's also the type of guy who could maybe swing the conversation another direction if he lights it up. Steady should suffice for this first act. Armstrong looks the part. Looks smooth running the option in the limited views we've had of him. But he's also yet to throw a pass in college. He's yet to play in a game where Nebraska hasn't had a 36-point lead. Don't expect the quarterback with the perfect name to have all the answers in his first real test. But if he at least has some of them, it could strike a positive note to end a negative week. Armstrong. Just sounds right. Now, time to start seeing what he looks like.

2. Beware rabbits that bite

Here's a question: Is "base defense" the accurate description for a defensive scheme that hasn't been used the first three weeks of the season? Nebraska finally gets a chance to go back to its "base" this week against South Dakota State. That means three linebackers. It means more Zaire Anderson, potentially one of the better talents on this team who has only been seen in limited roles so far. It's going to be a test for a Husker D that, when we last we saw it, was reeling against the Bruins. Mostly, it's going to boil down to whether Nebraska can hold in check SDSU's Zack Zenner, who ran for an FCS-best 2,044 yards last year. Tough kid. Runs downhill. Nothing fancy. The Jackrabbits are going to come right at the Huskers and test their young front seven. Though the Jackrabbits' competition hasn't been the stiffest, they're averaging 41.3 points a game. And if they're moving the chains, they're going to shorten the game considerably. It's clear Nebraska's defense can't take anyone lightly at this point, not even an FCS team. Otherwise it'll turn into a Monty Python sketch, because, as you might know, some rabbits come with "nasty, big, pointy teeth!"

3. Narrowing the offensive scope

There's no more talk about averaging 50 points a game. Not after last week. Put that loss just as much on the Husker offense, which didn't score in the last 21/2 quarters. Tim Beck said this week he needs to narrow the scope. Good idea. Nebraska has appeared to be trying to do a bit of everything. Sometimes in that pursuit you end up with nothing. It hasn't helped that Martinez's apparent injury has seemed to limit the QB run from Nebraska's offense — a major component. Perhaps with someone healthy at the position, that dynamic returns. Above all, though, this is the kind of day where the Huskers need to enforce their will in the trenches. Ameer Abdullah. Imani Cross. Terrell Newby. Feed them. Feed them lots. Take a little pressure off the young quarterback. Put it on the backs and the big boys up front. The most necessary ingredient? Nastiness. This offense needs to show its teeth. It needs to find the swagger everyone expected it'd have three weeks ago.

4. Will performance match the rallying cry?

After a week of censored words in this newspaper, Pelini will run onto the field with his team again. Expect noise. Lots of bleepin' noise. Some will make noise in support of the coach. Here's guessing many more will make it out of support for the players, the ones who sometimes get lost in the background during soap operas like these. About those players? They love Pelini. One thing that isn't debatable is he's always been a players' coach. They'll want to win big for him. But after weeks like these, teams usually perform at one of two extremes. They either use that rallying cry to play to their maximum potential. Or, despite the attempt to play for a cause, the emotional drain of the week leaves their gas tank empty by game time. Which will it be for Nebraska? You probably best not make any dramatic proclamations one way or another this week. Either way, expect it to be interesting. Who would've thought South Dakota State week would be must-see theater?

Reach Brian Christopherson at or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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