LINCOLN — As much as Tommy Armstrong wants it to be perfect, the Nebraska quarterback has been warned by offensive coordinator Tim Beck that it's not always going to be that way.
So it's those times — like last Saturday's second half against Northwestern — when Armstrong has the most to prove.
“They've just always told me to stay level-headed and that mistakes are going to happen, because I am young,” Armstrong said. “I try to fix that as much as I can. My coach always told me it's going to happen, but it's just how you respond.
“It was a rough second half for me, but I just want to play a full game without having those bumps and bruises.”
Armstrong plans to have that kind of fortitude Saturday, when the redshirt freshman makes his fifth career start at Michigan.
The work started Sunday, when Armstrong and fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg reviewed film from the Huskers' 27-24 comeback win against Northwestern. Among what they discussed were things that Armstrong did or didn't see on three second-half interceptions.
“Tommy's a freshman and he's going to learn from his mistakes,” Kellogg said. “As a quarterback, you don't want to have your head down and show the other team that you're defeated. So it's important for him to keep going forward.”
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Beck said Armstrong didn't recognize a blitz coming on his last interception, which defensive end Tyler Scott returned to the 7-yard line to set up the Wildcats' go-ahead field goal.
On the two previous pickoffs, Armstrong was stepping up in the pocket when he underthrew Alonzo Moore and scrambling to his left when he tried to force a ball to Moore in traffic. On the latter play, Armstrong also could have taken off running.
“A couple plays he was just trying to make some plays,” Beck said.
Nebraska was without juniors Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner in the second half against Northwestern, and Beck said there were communication errors with some young wideouts. Some of the mistakes reminded Beck of 2011, when he took over the offense and Taylor Martinez was a sophomore.
“It's kind of what we did our first year a little bit, where our passing game was just a hair off,” Beck said. “When we put it in, there was a lot of route reading and recognition, and we were off a little bit.”
Beck isn't surprised to see teams trying to confuse Armstrong more than they might do with Martinez, who had come into this season as a fourth-year starter. It won't get any easier Saturday with former Notre Dame, Florida and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison on the opposite sideline at Michigan.
“My coaches tell me it's going to happen like that,” Armstrong said. “With me being young, they're going to throw a bunch of stuff at me. At the same time, I've just got to make sure I'm ready for that and make sure I study as much as I can for it.”
Armstrong said he already gets a daily education with what he sees from Beck and the Huskers' defense.
“I try to make it hard on him in practice,” Beck said. “I even make stuff up sometimes, just to show him.”
Pelini began the week by saying Armstrong would start again Saturday, and Armstrong said he appreciates the faith and trust of the Nebraska staff. In his previous four starts, Armstrong hasn't felt as if he's looking over his shoulder if he makes a mistake, and NU hasn't tinkered much with how it has rotated Kellogg — though it called on Kellogg to run its two-minute drill twice Saturday.
Armstrong was 10 for 12 for 124 yards midway through the second quarter against Northwestern, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa. He then completed 5 of 17 throws as the Husker offense stalled.
That was after Armstrong threw three interceptions at Purdue on Oct. 12 after being turnover-free in his first two starts.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from Cibolo, Texas, promised that he's anything but deterred by recent events, which Kellogg said is the most important thing.
“We need him as a leader,” Kellogg said. “He's young and he's still learning. He has a long career ahead of him and we're going to need him for the next four Big Ten games. It's crucial that he understands what happened on Saturday and move on from it.”
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