The criticism of junior quarterback Joe Ganz hasn't been about what he knows in regard to this offense. It's been about how he is able to effectively execute it on the field of play. After being in the system for four years now, he should be so adept with the system that, even though he hasn't had a lot of actual game reps, he should have had enough reps over this time to know it inside and out.
The hack on Ganz, and what has most likely kept him from the starting spot, is that he might not have the arm to get it done. Of course, former Husker QB Zac Taylor, the guy who really accelerated the instillation of this offense - he didn't have the greatest arm either.
But when it came to practice, being able to lead the team and performing at a consistent level, Taylor proved over and over that he was the guy for the job.
When Keller came in, he had the experience against great teams, the almost prototypical NFL quarterback size and yes, he had the arm to stretch the field, giving defenses something else to think about.
But he also provided them with a bit of moxie, the Arizona State transfer proving that almost any time he was put in hurried up situations, one fine example being the two-minute offense he ran against Wake Forest to close out the first half, giving the Huskers the lead going into the locker room.
Junior wide receiver Nathan Swift said that Ganz hasn't had a chance to prove it, but he's got a little moxie as well. "He really gets it going in the two-minute offense. That's when he's just driving the team down the field in practice," Swift said. "We'd get into that drill and you could tell he was just into it and he did a really nice job."
The misconception surrounding Ganz and what he'll do versus what Keller did, is that his mobility makes the offense much different. The thing is, you don't change the system to fit the player over midway through the season.
From a physical aspect, Ganz doesn't give you the arm and doesn't have the size one might think works with this offense. But as you have seen with quarterbacks like Chase Daniel, Stephen McGee and Colt McCoy, you don't have to be 6-3 to be successful. Kansas ranks amongst the top 10 in the country and sophomore Todd Reesing, their starting quarterback, isn't even 5-11.
The counter to that is that Texas , Missouri and Kansas all run more of a spread offense and not a typical pro-style attack. And the Aggies run the option. But they all run the ball to a degree, some of the spread offenses emphasizing it at least as much as the pass. And the Huskers have gotten quite used to running this attack out of the shotgun.
How different Nebraska could look offensively with Ganz, is probably not all that different from what you saw Ball State do with Nate Davis when the Cardinals came to town. Davis was never known for his ability to run and coming into that game he actually had negative yards rushing during his young career with BSU. But it didn't stop the coaches from having Davis roll out and run bootlegs to the extent you would have thought it was their identity.
It wasn't, of course, but between Nebraska not showing a lot as far as being able to create containment on the QB and just the lack of a pass rush, they saw something and it worked like a charm.
You could expect something similar to be done with Ganz.
The main issue with doing something completely different with Joe versus what was done with Sam is that the offensive line is used to blocking for a guy who is going to stand pat more often than not. Their job is to maintain the integrity of the pocket, and they have a clear understanding of where that pocket is on any given play.
If you let Ganz run around with impunity, the line becomes almost ineffective, because they don't have eyes in the back of their head and can't move as he does.
Another issue is about the habits receivers develop when working with one QB versus the other. As receivers have gotten used to working with Keller, they will obviously look back for the ball and if the QB is in trouble, they will instinctively come back for the ball to give Keller an out if he needs one.
With Ganz, the tendency to come back for the ball should still be their priority, but now they have to think about the fact that unlike Keller, Ganz is as likely to tuck and go as he is to throw the ball down the field. So, a receiver has to decide in that instant, whether he's coming back for a catch or he needs to find someone to block.
The one advantage for Joe is actually a byproduct of something this offense hasn't been able to do this year and that is utilize their downfield threats. Either receivers haven't been able to create separation so that Keller was comfortable throwing down the field or Keller hasn't really had the time. But it's safe to say that receivers haven't gotten into this rhythm with a deep game, which is good, because Ganz can give you a definite game from the mid-point of the field to perhaps 10 to 15 yards beyond that, but anything longer and there probably isn't going to be a lot of confidence in how consistent this offense will be.
If there is one thing you can almost guarantee about the practices leading up to the trip down to Lawrence , most of it will not necessarily be geared around the repetition of the fundamentals of the game. This is a young man who should be instinctively ready to run this system, from play action to lining up in the gun and running a hurry up if needed.
The kid has elusiveness, quickness and an ability to extend a play in the backfield. Expect the coaches to take full advantage of that.
The tricky part about Kansas being Joe's first game is that they are incredibly adept at stopping the run. The Aggies, who put up close to 400 yards rushing on the Huskers, couldn't even manage a hundred against the Jayhawks, and in College Station . But that attack is the bread n' butter of what Texas A&M did versus Nebraska , which could look at it as a weapon of opportunity.
That's where it could work, and that's how you should expect it to be used. The Huskers aren't going to start running the veer, because that's not what they do and it's not what practices every single day are geared around.
What the junior QB will do primarily is exactly what Keller did. But if he's efficient in running the basic offense, than his mobility becomes a significant weapon in and of itself. A lot will depend on the ground game and if Nebraska can get that going. And, of course, a lot will depend on Joe himself and how efficient he is in the passing game.
It's no treat to have your first start come against statistically, one of the best defenses in the country. But this offense has a lot of ways it can beat a team. Hypothetically speaking, if Ganz can run the basics of this offense, in that he can make the right calls at the line, keep Nebraska in the right play and he's efficient in the short-to-mid range passing game, his mobility goes from being a way to keep himself upright to a bonafide weapon against the Jayhawks.
Keller was the starter for a reason and there are certain aspects they will miss, both mentally and physically. However, on paper at least, Ganz does add a dimension to the Husker offense, something defenses will have to take into account, along with all the other stuff they do.
In his first game as a starter, it's hard to expect a lot and impossible to expect any miracles, but Ganz has his own style, his own set of weapons and at this point, you never know what might work and what might not.
Sometimes change is good.