LINCOLN, Neb. -- Tommy Armstrong Jr. will make his second straight start in place of injured quarterback Taylor Martinez when Nebraska hosts Illinois in its Big Ten opener Saturday.
Coach Bo Pelini said after Thursday's practice that Martinez hasn't progressed enough in his recovery from an injury to his left big toe.
Illinois-Nebraska previewBy The Associated Press
Illinois (3-1) at Nebraska (3-1), 11 a.m. CT (ESPNU)
Line: Nebraska by 9 ½.
Series Record: Nebraska leads 7-2-1.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The Big Ten opener looks to be more of a dicey proposition than expected for Nebraska. The Illini are clicking on offense, averaging 40 points and 479 yards, and the Cornhuskers' defense can't seem to stop anybody. Despite its 14-game Big Ten losing streak, Illinois comes to Lincoln with lots of confidence.
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase vs. Nebraska defense. The fourth-year starter is completing 67 percent of his passes for almost 300 yards a game. Never mind that Nebraska has nine interceptions. Opponents are completing 63 percent for 284 yards a game. Illinois needs Scheelhaase at his best in what could turn into a scoring contest.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Illinois: LB Jonathan Brown. The Butkus Award candidate leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally with 11.8 tackles a game. He has led the Illini in tackles every game this season.
Nebraska: CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who's the first Nebraska player to pick off a pass in four straight games since Josh Bullocks in 2003. Jean-Baptiste already has 140 interception return yards, 37 off the school record held by Daniel Bullocks in 2004.
FACTS & FIGURES
Tommy Armstrong Jr. will be Nebraska's starting quarterback for the second straight game if Taylor Martinez (turf toe) can't play ... The teams will play every year from now on with both schools heading to the Big Ten West Division in 2014 ... The Huskers have won 35 of their past 38 conference openers, with all three of the losses coming since 2002 ... Illinois is breaking more big plays under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. The Illini have 27 plays of 20 yards or more through four games, compared with last season's 12-game total of 34 ... Illinois scored a school-record 161 points over its first four games, bettering the 158 in the first four games of 1914, when the Illini won Big Ten and national titles.
Armstrong, a redshirt freshman, and fifth-year senior Ron Kellogg III split playing time evenly in the Cornhuskers' 59-20 win over South Dakota State on Sept. 21. The Huskers (3-1) didn't have a game last week.
Martinez continues to battle turf toe, an injury marked by painful bruising at the base of the toe. Turf toe can become chronic if not allowed to fully heal. The fourth-year starter hasn't played or practiced since the Sept. 14 game against UCLA.
"I think he's getting pretty close, but until he's 100 percent and feels comfortable where he can put his foot in the ground and do what he needs to do, then we won't see him," Pelini said. "When that time is, I don't know."
Armstrong completed 12 of 15 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown and led the Huskers to TDs on his first three series against South Dakota State. Also a threat in the triple-option, he ran five times for 38 yards against the Jackrabbits.
Kellogg was 8 of 9 for 136 yards and a TD and led Nebraska to scores on three of four first-half drives against SDSU.
Pelini said he didn't know whether Armstrong and Kellogg would rotate every two series as they did most of the last game, but he expected Kellogg to play some.
"No matter who's the quarterback," Pelini said, "the key is playing good around them, and our guys understand that and are ready to do that."
Armstrong said earlier in the week that he wouldn't be surprised to start again. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Armstrong was ranked among the top dual-threat quarterbacks when he was coming out of Cibolo (Texas) Steele High in 2012. He redshirted last season and has overcome some minor knee problems while transitioning into Beck's multiple system.
"We started clicking ever since I was in high school and I committed here," Armstrong said of his relationship with Beck. "Since I've been here, he's always told me he sees potential in me ... and he's going to be hard on me all the time just because I'm young and he wants me to be prepared."