(AP)—- Coming off its second bye week in a month, Nebraska will head to Minnesota fresh and well-positioned in the Big Ten Legends Division race.
The No. 25 Cornhuskers may also see the return of their quarterback.
Coach Bo Pelini said Taylor Martinez probably will play against the Gophers on Saturday, but whether he starts will be a game-time decision.
Martinez practiced Sunday for the first time since mid-September due to an injured left foot, and Pelini said Thursday that Martinez’s availability will be determined by how his foot responds to a week’s worth of practice.
“He’s got some rust in some areas he has to get cleaned up,” Pelini said Monday. “I thought he looked good. We didn’t give him a lot. We’ll just see how it goes as the week goes on and see how he feels.”
The Huskers (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) have played just twice since Sept. 21 and are a half-game behind Michigan State in the Legends Division.
They start the second half of the season against a Minnesota team that bounced back from losses to Iowa and Michigan with a 20-17 win at Northwestern last week. Pelini said the Gophers’ victory didn’t surprise him.
“Minnesota is getting better. I think they believe in what they’re doing,” he said. “I shouldn’t say I’m glad it happened. Hopefully it got our guys’ attention. I’m sure it did.”
Receiver Kenny Bell said the Gophers’ win was “definitely an eye-opener” even though Northwestern was without injured players Kain Colter and Venric Mark.
“It’s not going to change the way we prepare,” Bell said. “We’re going to prepare the same way we’d prepare to play Alabama or Ohio State. We’re going to really buckle down these next six weeks. The realization of how open this thing is… Guys are really wanting it.”
Though Martinez has been out with turf toe and offensive lineman Spencer Long was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Purdue, the Huskers are relatively healthy after the bye week, Pelini said.
If Martinez can’t play, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. would be in line for his fourth straight start. Armstrong, who has shared playing time with Ron Kellogg III, said he’s preparing as if he’ll play this week but will understand if the coaches go with Martinez.
“He’s experienced and he’s earned the right to be able to maybe come back and take that role on,” Armstrong said. “Yeah, I’m the future quarterback here in the next couple years. At the same time you have to understand this guy has been here for five years and he’s done a lot.”
Bell, a junior who ranks in the top six at Nebraska in career catches and receiving yards, said he’s hoping Martinez comes back as soon as possible.
“I’ve always wanted Taylor as our quarterback,” Bell said, “but at the same time I have just as much faith in Tommy and Ronny. They’ve been playing good football for us. Optimism is high with Tay. I’m excited to see him back with pads on and practicing.
“Whoever is going to be healthy is really who I want out there Saturday. If he’s not ready, we’ll go compete without him, but obviously it would be nice to have him back.”
Minnesota (5-2, 1-2) had coach Jerry Kill back in the locker room last week, if only for a halftime speech as he remains on leave while dealing with epileptic seizures. However, it apparently made a big difference for the Gophers.
“We saw him at halftime and it was shocker,” linebacker James Manuel said. “And then at the end of the game it was a special moment for the team, as a whole, hearing him speak. Having his presence there just really gave us a tremendous boost going into the second half.”
Nebraska has won 16 in a row in the series, taking the most recent matchup 38-14 at home Nov. 17.