JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's his offense now, no doubt.

At least that's how Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong feels. That's how he conducts himself. And if he plans to claim the starting job for good, well, that's a fine start.

Yeah, for certain, it's his offense, he says.

"That's how it's been pretty much all season," Armstrong said Wednesday after NU's 24-19 Gator Bowl victory against Georgia. "Me and Ron (Kellogg), we felt like this was our team. This is our offense. The guys react around us. If we're down, they're going to be down. If we're up and high-tempo, they're going to be up and high-tempo.

"We have to get them going, and that's what we were doing the whole game."

We keep hearing from his teammates and coaches that Armstrong is a natural leader. That he's poised and tough. That he has the "it" factor. That he's a winner.

We've seen some evidence. We needed more.

We saw some more Wednesday, when Armstrong was at the controls for all but one series as Nebraska improved to 9-4 and snapped a three-bowl losing streak.

Armstrong and Kellogg led the offense since senior Taylor Martinez's season was derailed by a September foot injury. They've looked excellent at times. In other instances, not so much.

Kellogg is a senior. So, the Gator Bowl, in large part, was about further gauging Armstrong's readiness to take over the offense.

If you bleed Husker red, you wanted Armstrong to show poise. Check.

You wanted him to command the offense and execute. Check.

You wanted him to make some clutch plays. Check.

You wanted him to take care of the damned ball. Check (for the most part).

"Believe me, he made some mistakes out there," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "There are some plays he's going to want back."

Armstrong tossed an ugly interception late in the third quarter, heaving the pass off his back foot. The intended receiver, Kenny Bell, never had a chance. Seven plays later, Georgia (8-5) scored a touchdown to pull to 24-19.

"Other than that, he played pretty well," Pelini said.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Armstrong was 6-for-14 passing for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He gunned what should've been a 29-yard TD in the second quarter, but Jamal Turner dropped the ball in the end zone.

He threw a nice deep ball to Quincy Enunwa that turned into a 99-yard touchdown and a 24-12 lead.

He netted 26 yards on 10 carries, including a 24-yard first-quarter scramble. He looked strong running the ball; his ankle felt great, he said.

He showed maturity in throwing away passes when nobody was open.

He made a veteran play when he saw Bell getting mugged by a defensive back and zipped the pass in Bell's direction anyway, even though there was no chance he could catch it. Armstrong knew a flag was coming.

Above all, Armstrong had only the one turnover. Georgia had two.

News bulletin: Nebraska won the turnover battle.

"A big part of a game like this (in the rain) is not turning the ball over," Pelini said. "We did a good job in that area, and it ended up winning us the game. That was the difference. A lot of that goes back to the quarterback."

Is it really Armstrong's offense? We know for certain Johnny Stanton will have something to say about that come spring.

But know this: Armstrong is authoritative. He commands respect.

"A born leader," said senior center/guard Cole Pensick.

We keep hearing that. Thing is, Armstrong showed it. He made a sizable impression when, in the fourth quarter, he gathered the offense and delivered an impassioned speech.

Nebraska led 24-19, but it was a shaky lead. The Huskers needed a shot of stability.

Here came the redshirt freshman.

"He said, 'Hey, we're right where we want to be, and they ain't doing anything different than what we studied for. Let's just calm down and take a breather, and let's just be us,'" Pensick said.

Although Nebraska didn't score again -- against an ordinary Georgia defense -- Armstrong's show of strength was telling. But it wasn't necessarily anything new.

"He's not yelling at you and then doing something he's not supposed to be doing," Pensick said. "He's out there working hard and doing what he's supposed to be doing. And he demands it from his teammates."

Pelini's right, Armstrong was far from perfect. He dropped a shotgun snap that almost wound up being a safety. He gunned a pass wide when Enunwa was open on third-and-4 late in the fourth quarter.

Nebraska managed only 307 yards of total offense.

But Armstrong is like his head coach: Bottom line-oriented.

"It means a lot," Armstrong said of the victory. "It shows the class and heart of this team. We had tough losses and we had great wins. At the end of the day, we earned a triumph for these seniors."

Call it a statement victory for the budding leader of the offense. Armstrong will tell you himself that it's his show, and that's a good sign.

His sturdy performance Wednesday was another.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.