Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong doesn’t plan on letting aches, pains or Boilermakers break his stride
LINCOLN — It was uncharted territory for Tommy Armstrong, who sat on his couch last Halloween and watched Nebraska stumble without him at Purdue.
The quarterback had started the previous 22 games, and pretty much seen steady work ever since the first month of his redshirt freshman season after the Taylor Martinez injury surfaced.
Armstrong looked that day at the ice on his right foot — and set his mind on the next week.
“I was itching to get back at any time,” he said. “I just wanted to get healthy.
“The coaches made a decision, with Mark (Mayer, the head trainer) and those guys, of just trying to get me healthy. That’s the thing that always helps — when you have guys that do that for a living — to make sure they get you back healthy. That way you can play the rest of the season.”
It was dissected for a good week afterward what Nebraska might have done with Armstrong in West Lafayette, even if slowed by a turf toe-like injury. But it also was wasted breath after the Huskers committed five turnovers and were porous defensively in a 55-45 loss, with Ryker Fyfe making his only career start.
The bright side is it might have made Armstrong better the following week, when he led the 39-38 upset of No. 6 Michigan State and started this current Nebraska run of nine wins in 10 games.
And that’s the positive way that Armstrong wished to see it.
“I love football,” he said. “That’s what I came up here for, was to play. I play as much as I can, and enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s going to go by quick.”
The Purdue rematch comes Saturday, and Armstrong wasn’t overly interested Wednesday in looking back much at last season.
He’d tried to brief Fyfe before the game on what he might see, having started the previous two years against Purdue. Armstrong said it was no different from when backups have replaced injured starters at other positions — including receiver Jordan Westerkamp and tight end Cethan Carter, who didn’t travel last week.
“Like we always say, it’s the next man up,” Armstrong said. “You’ve just got to expect guys to make plays.
“Being in that situation last year — having a tough season, having a bunch of losses — it was kind of a domino effect on our team. But I think we’re doing a good job of bouncing back this year.”
Armstrong is still dealing with minor injuries. He was in a boot and missed practice time during the bye week before Nebraska won at Indiana to reach 6-0.
There’s pride that goes with his durability, though, especially with the pounding that the senior takes as a running quarterback.
He doesn’t take his health or his opportunities for granted, knowing something could be worse after watching Martinez not get to finish his final year.
“I know how bad he wanted to play,” Armstrong said. “At times, it’s nothing really you can do. You just got to put it all in the doctor’s hands and make sure it’s the smartest decision for yourself, for your future and things like that.”
Armstrong probably needs about two or three more starts to break the school record for career total offense, set by Martinez over 43 career starts. Armstrong heads into his 40th start already No. 1 in passing yards (8,050) and touchdown passes (63).
He said Wednesday he feels good for a stretch run, with nothing hurting enough to affect his play.
“I’ve just got to tough it out,” he said. “There’s times where I come in in the morning and I might be stiff, but I’ve just got to make sure I rehab enough. But I’m good to go.”
It wasn’t the case a year ago, so Armstrong watched from his Lincoln home as Nebraska slipped to 3-6 with the Purdue stunner. A different kind of experience, to be sure.
“Honestly, they tried their best to get me to go, but it was a number of things,” Armstrong said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t go, just like Westy couldn’t go to Indiana.”