LINCOLN — John Garrison said it started during the week.
The Nebraska assistant coach watched his offensive linemen keep feeding Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg positive reinforcement, constantly making sure they stayed upbeat as they took turns directing the No. 1 offense with Taylor Martinez on the sidelines.
The line wanted the quarterbacks to know it would take good care of them against South Dakota State.
It paid off Saturday as that veteran crew paved the way for Armstrong and Kellogg to be both safe and successful in the Huskers' 59-20 win over the Jackrabbits.
“Really, that was the whole message this week for our guys,” Garrison said.
Nebraska reached 300 yards both rushing and passing in the same game for the first time in school history despite somebody other than Martinez starting at quarterback for the first time since late in the 2010 season.
And Armstrong, a redshirt freshman, and Kellogg, a fifth-year senior, walked away with nary a scratch.
“We definitely said we'll protect you, we'll run the football, we'll do whatever we can to make your job easier,” NU offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “And I think we did that pretty well today.”
NU starts four seniors on the offensive line and plays five total among the eight that it uses regularly. Several of them have played games and gone places that Armstrong, in particular, had never been before.
So the linemen did their best to allow the quarterbacks to always set their feet in the pocket or have a running lane that stayed open a split second longer.
“They came to play,” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “Again, I appreciate the supporting cast. You've got two young quarterbacks playing, so the line had to step up. Everybody needed to do their part to help those guys settle in. And they did.”
Armstrong said he might have only gotten “touched once or twice” in the pocket. Kellogg also benefited from South Dakota State not being credited with a single quarterback hurry despite NU throwing 26 passes.
“I give all the thanks to those guys for working hard the whole game, and being dedicated to the little things in the game plan and the details to keep Tommy and I dry the entire game,” Kellogg said. “All the credit goes to those guys.”
Armstrong completed 12 of 15 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. Kellogg was 8 of 9 for 136 yards and a score.
Even with the Huskers rotating every two series, Sirles said you couldn't tell who was in there.
“Honestly, some of the times I didn't even know,” he said. “I'm so proud of both of those guys. Both those guys came in and played lights out.”
Senior center Cole Pensick said he didn't anticipate any trouble with exchanges or different cadences despite his comfort with Martinez. Pensick said it mostly went well with the quarterbacks for himself and backup Mark Pelini.
“I always feel comfortable with whatever quarterback's in there,” Pensick said. “They're all a little different, but you get to work with them here and there. It works out. I don't really think there was too big a problem with trying to get used to it.”
Garrison knew South Dakota State had the capability to hit Nebraska with some stunting and different pressures. He could only think of one real bust off the top of his head, though, and that mistake was covered by an NU back staying in for protection.
Garrison said he thanked his troops in the locker room afterward, for not only leading the way Saturday but for helping the Huskers through a tough week after the loss to UCLA and the controversy that swirled around head coach Bo Pelini.
“They acted like grown men this week,” Garrison said. “I'm really proud of the way they reacted. They came to work even harder than ever before. They took the loss as something serious and something we needed to work on, and despite all the distractions and things that were going on they kept a workmanlike attitude and were dialed in even more than they've ever been.”
Sirles said Monday that Nebraska had to stop running hot and cold as an offense. It saw Saturday as a good place to start the turnaround.
The line wanted to be the ones to lead the way.
“I think we just went out there and attacked,” Sirles said. “Coach Beck called a great game, Tommy and Ronny managed the game really well and I felt like we just came out and executed really well.”
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• Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini talks after the game:
• Video: Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong talks after the game:
• Video: Nebraska QB Ron Kellogg talks after the game:
• Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon: