Tommy Armstrong says he's confident, but it's fair to wonder about his mindset in light of his recent struggles.

It's also fair to wonder about Tim Beck's confidence.

Nebraska's offense has been a hit-and-miss operation much of the season, especially the last two games. It ranks 41st nationally, which isn't horrible, considering injuries at skill positions, but isn't commensurate with where Beck wants it.

The fourth-year Husker offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach needs to figure out Saturday how to get Armstrong into something that resembles a sustainable passing rhythm. Armstrong is completing only 49.4 percent of his attempts in Big Ten play. Another such day might not cut it against Minnesota's rugged and sound defense.

An armchair play-caller might suggest Beck dial up short-and-quick passes early in the game as a way to establish confidence and rhythm for his sophomore quarterback — not to mention himself.

It might be more important than usual for Beck to find something that works well immediately. Minnesota's modus operandi is to shorten games by running the ball and chewing up minutes. NU would enter dangerous territory if it allows Jerry Kill's crew to nab an early lead and dictate the tempo.

Armstrong's teammates say he was pressing last week against Wisconsin. There are no easy fixes.

"There's a lot of pressure on him here at Nebraska as a quarterback, trying to live up to expectations — not only from himself and from the coaches, but from everybody's (perception) of what he should be," the coach said.

"It gets hard. They're young kids, you know?"

What's more, Beck said, Armstrong isn't used to losing — he was 29-3 in his final two seasons at Cibolo (Texas) Steele High and is 15-3 at Nebraska.

"Maybe he doesn't handle losing the way you'd like him to," Beck said. "He's still learning."

Beck implores Armstrong to relax. To avoid forcing the issue. However, Beck said, Armstrong shows his frustration at times.

"You just can't do that," the coach said.

A quarterback obviously has to be careful that his frustration doesn't impact his teammates.

"I love the competitive drive — if he throws a bad pass and he's mad at himself," Beck said. "But it's over. You have to move on."

Same goes for coaches. Beck, though, was asked whether he would change anything about his play-calling against Wisconsin. He paused. Nothing really sticks out, he said.

Nebraska gained just 180 yards, and only 2.8 per play.

Beck can thank his lucky stars it's not a bye week, that there's an opponent for which to prepare.

Said Armstrong: "Mistakes are going happen. I'm not going to dwell on last week."

Armstrong was asked if any current Husker quarterbacks tried to "pick him up" this week or maybe share their experiences with their own struggles. Not really, he said.

You have to press forward and learn from mistakes — not just him, but the entire offense, he said.

Beck said Armstrong is growing as a player.

"It means a lot to him," Beck said. 

He then repeated the sentence. 

Armstrong will keep pushing. Keep scrapping. Keep trying to improve. It's his nature. I'm convinced of that. But a quarterback, more so than any other position, must operate with confidence. Beck must continually find ways to help Armstrong in that regard. It's easier said than done.


These games are key

The obvious: Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) at Iowa (7-3, 4-2), 2:30 p.m., ABC: Plenty of drama here. Melvin Gordon, who originally committed to Iowa before ultimately choosing to attend UW, admits he became unnerved last season by Hawkeye fans who were shouting insults and reciting old quotes from his time as an Iowa recruit. Even worse, the Hawkeyes held him to just 62 yards on 17 carries. Don't count Iowa out of the West Division race just yet.

The not-so-obvious: Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 SEC) at Arkansas (5-5, 1-5), 2:30 p.m., CBS: Arkansas stuffed LSU last week to end a 17-game conference losing streak. You had to feel good for Bret Bielema. You did feel good for him, right? "I can't say enough about our fans. I don't know how a coach can be 0-17 and get the support that we did," Bielema told reporters, adding, "It's just such a fun thing to share it with such a fan base that absolutely enjoys every trial and tribulation the way that they did. To get them a win, but also let them know that there's some really good things coming."

Like a win against the Rebels? Wouldn't surprise me a bit.

Heisman Trophy watch

Count Ameer Abdullah out of the running. Count these guys as being in thick of the chase:

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: The 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior remains the odds-on favorite to win his school's first Heisman, according to Las Vegas. Up next: vs. Colorado (2-8, 0-7 Pac-12).

RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: He leads the nation with 1,909 rushing yards. His 408 last week are more than Wake Forest has for the entire season. Up next: at Iowa (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten).

WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: A 6-2, 202-pound junior, he's been the SEC's most consistent offensive player, with at least 130 receiving yards in six games. Up next: Western Carolina (7-4, 5-2 Southern).

QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: After throwing just two interceptions in the first five games, the 6-2, 235-pound junior has thrown eight in his last five. Up next: Vanderbilt (3-7, 0-6 SEC).

QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: The redshirt freshman has had his two best games the last two weeks, putting on a show in tough road wins against then-No. 8 Michigan State and No. 25 Minnesota.

Thumbs up, down

Thumbs up to Jimbo Fisher and Florida State (10-0). There's something I really like about perhaps the most disliked team in college football marching through its schedule unscathed despite a litany of distractions and criticism. Reminds me a bit of Tom Osborne's final seasons at Nebraska, with all the cynicism levied toward Fisher regarding how he runs his program.

"I can't control what people think of us," Fisher told USA TODAY. "That has nothing to do with me. I'm just very proud of our team and how we accomplish things. They can think what they want. I know what I know."

Thumbs down to John Swofford, ACC commissioner and member of the College Football Playoff management committee. The playoff is in the first year of a 12-year contract. Why not wait until the first year is complete before essentially pushing for an eight-team field, as Swofford did this week?

Five to go: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is 24th in the FBS in average annual salary at $3,077,646, according to USA TODAY's annual report, released this week. The top five:

1. Nick Saban, Alabama, $7,160,187. And worth every penny.

2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State, $5,636,145. You would think he might smile more.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, $5,058,333. The Sooners are 6-4 overall, including 3-4 in the Big 12.

4. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, $5,006,000. The Aggies are 7-4, including 3-4 in the SEC.

5. Charlie Strong, Texas, $5,000,270. No pressure or anything, Charlie.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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