Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. received a vote of confidence Monday from coach Bo Pelini, who said the redshirt freshman would start at Penn State this week after his three-turnover performance against Michigan State.
"We still believe in Tommy and still think he's going to be a really good football player for us," Pelini said. "He's young. He's a freshman. He's not going to be perfect. He was disappointed yesterday, but that experience will make him better down the line."
The 41-28 loss to the Spartans was the first in Armstrong's six starts since he replaced the injured Taylor Martinez. Armstrong's wins, however, have come against Championship Subdivision South Dakota State and four Big Ten teams with a combined conference record of 3-21.
Since he went 7 for 9 in the first half against Illinois on Oct. 5, Armstrong is just 42 of 91 (46 percent) with five touchdowns against seven interceptions and two fumbles.
Armstrong, with those seven picks, is tied with Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase for most in Big Ten play. But Scheelhaase has 233 pass attempts in conference games compared with Armstrong's 100.
Armstrong had fumbles that gave Michigan State the ball at the Nebraska 22 and 3 and an interception on the Cornhuskers' side of the 50. The Spartans converted two of the three turnovers into touchdowns.
"Mistakes killed us, and most of that was on me," Armstrong said. "I've got to fix that. Most people say that it's part of being a freshman. At the same time, I just think I've got to hold onto the football. Being a player is being a player. It's not about what grade you're in."
Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck are handling Armstrong carefully. Pelini said Armstrong has a tendency to be extremely hard on himself. He wants Armstrong to learn from the mistakes but not dwell on them.
Linebacker Michael Rose, one of Armstrong's best friends on the team, said the quarterback was extremely upset in the locker room after the game.
"People outside of our team are going to tear him down and tell him he's this and he's that and he cost us this," Rose said. "That's why we have to remain close and stay a tight-knit bunch."
Armstrong said it helps to know he has the support of teammates. That was conveyed to him in a text message he received from running back Imani Cross after the game.
According to Armstrong, the text read, "No matter if you're a quarterback that throws 100 touchdowns and zero interceptions, or you don't throw any touchdowns and 100 interceptions, I'm still going to trust you and I'm still going to have your back."
Pelini said fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III could rotate in for a few series against Penn State, as he has in other games Armstrong has started. Kellogg didn't play against Michigan State until the last few minutes, when the game was decided.
Pelini said Armstrong must not allow his poor performance against Michigan State to carry over when the Huskers return to practice this week or when they enter Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
"I think you'll see him respond the right way," Pelini said.