With senior Taylor Martinez out with a foot injury, the redshirt freshman eventually took the reins of the team in the second half of the season. His first meeting with the Spartans was a bit of a struggle, however, as he accounted for three of Nebraska’s five turnovers in Michigan State’s 41-28 win.
A year later, the Spartans are facing a much-improved, more experienced Armstrong as and the Huskers come to East Lansing on Saturday.
”I think last year at this time last year he was just coming into his own,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “This year he's more experienced. That's his only loss that he's had on him since he's been a starting quarterback was last year and I'm sure he wants some of those plays back.
”I think he's the guy in charge and there's confidence that goes along with that and a sense of ownership.”
Armstrong was just 9 of 21 passing last season for 143 yards, throwing a pair of touchdowns passes. The turnovers were killer, though, as the five led to 24 Michigan State points. He finished the 2013 season with nine touchdown passes to eight interceptions in eight starts. Early in 2014, Armstrong has played at a different level. While his completion percentage still hovers around 50, he has thrown 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions through five games.
Even as the differences are noticed statistically, they also are visible in how Armstrong carries himself. Senior safety Kurtis Drummond noted the same thing as Dantonio, saying Armstrong is much more confident in the pocket.
“You just see a guy who really understands the offense a guy who can make plays with his feet and can still throw the ball down the field,” Drummond said. “He is a lot more composed in the pocket and making plays with the ball.
”He has just grown that just happens when you play more games.”
Armstrong now has 13 starts under his belt. His passing has gotten better, but his ability to run the ball also makes him a threat for a defense.
”He is a guy who can pass pretty well,” Rush said. “He can run, he is kind of like a Braxton Miller kind of guy.
”He is someone you have to keep contained and make sure he is not getting out of the game into free space.”
But as the Spartans look to contain him, defensive end Shilique Calhoun said it comes back to Michigan State as much as it does Armstrong’s improvement.
”I would say he definitely is playing well,” Calhoun said. “The biggest thing is playing our style of defense and we will be just fine.”