Bo Pelini and Tim Beck both used the word “gutty” in describing Friday’s performance by Tommy Armstrong, who took shot after shot, played with hurt ribs, and still ended up throwing for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
How gutty? According to Beck, there was even some question about whether the sophomore quarterback would come back after leaving the game for two plays in the second quarter of Nebraska’s 37-34 overtime win against Iowa.
“Yeah, a little bit, a little bit,” NU’s offensive coordinator said. “But he gutted it out.”
Senior running back Ameer Abdullah said Armstrong’s ability to extend plays with his feet — which he did on a 34-yard touchdown pass to Taariq Allen and on the overtime game-winning pass to Kenny Bell — was one of the major keys to Nebraska’s success in the second half.
“It’s hard to cover guys for six seconds,” Abdullah said.
Armstrong had to be quick on his feet, considering he was often under duress and working with an offensive line that was down to its third-string center and fifth offensive tackle.
But it was a challenge Armstrong wanted, especially after a halftime talk with Beck.
Said Armstrong: “He told me, ‘In order to win this game, you’re going to have to throw the ball. You’re going to have to make smart decisions, put your teammates in the right position to win the game. We believe in you.’”
* FEARLESS: You might recall that Bell actually started this year as Nebraska’s punt returner.
But the senior wide receiver will be the first to tell you the Huskers have found someone special at the position in De’Mornay Pierson-El, who had three returns for 134 yards Friday, including an 80-yard touchdown.
“A true freshman, 18 years old?” Bell said. “And he did (returned punts) at Sparty and Fresno State?”
Bell shook his head. “I wouldn’t kick to him."
Iowa did. For some reason.
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Pelini said Pierson-El’s confidence, combined with his talents, make him play older than his age.
“De’Mornay, he competes, he loves to play. He doesn’t act like a freshman,” Pelini said. “He loves the moment and he wants the ball in his hands. Let me tell you, to be a freshman and go back and return punts the way he does, it’s not easy to do. He’s fearless about it.”
* FULL CAUTION: Bell underwent a lot of cautionary tests in the days before Friday’s game to make sure he was in the proper health to play after suffering a head injury against Minnesota.
“Balance testing, reactionary testing, an exertion test, another impact test,” Bell said.
He passed them all.
“By Thursday I was going,” he said.
It was a good thing for Nebraska, considering Bell caught three passes for 53 yards, including a leaping 32-yard touchdown against two defenders and a 9-yarder to win the game in overtime.
As for that leaping touchdown catch?
“Dirty,” Abdullah saud. “Dirty, man. He can do that, man. Throw him the rock. He can do that.”
QUOTES ON THE RUN
“We had a lot of time. I knew our kids would keep fighting.” — Pelini
“I give a lot of credit to our leadership in terms of our defense. Josh Mitchell and Nate Gerry, and Maliek Collins and Zaire Anderson, really pulled the guys together, and said, ‘No matter what, this is our last regular-season game and we’re going to go out swinging.' That mentality and approach is what allowed us to stay in this football game.” — Defensive coordinator John Papuchis
“I want to get as much joy and pleasure out of this group as I can. I’m going to miss this group. I love this team.” — offensive lineman Jake Cotton