Watercoolers beware: A legit QB controversy

There's always plenty of conversations about the quarterback position. But with Joe Ganz now gone, and at least one true freshman on campus now and one more expected to sign on February fourth, it brings up the inevitable question: So, who's job is it to lose?

When you look at the body of work, there are obviously two candidates for the Huskers at the quarterback position:

Patrick Witt, who will be going into his redshirt sophomore season, and Zac Lee who will be going into his junior year.

To say that it's a "body of work", though, is kind of misleading. It's a body, but one of Lilliputian proportion.

Witt has played in five games, thrown the ball eight times, completing six for 48 yards, his longest completion being 23 yards.

Lee has played in two games, thrown the ball twice, completing one for five yards.

Just as a matter of perspective, former Husker running back Marlon Lucky had two pass attempts of his own last year, both resulting in touchdowns for the big red
.

So yeah, it's nothing that tells you both have the obvious edge over the rest, and it tells you that neither has an obvious edge over one another.

The thing is, it's about practice.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Yes, not to quote Allen Iverson, but I guess I am, we're talking about practice. It's the time where Ganz languished for almost four full years before ever getting his opportunity to play.

Joe Ganz

It's not to say that it wasn't worth it, because as we have all learned, you can't just get off the bus and expect to run this offense. Often, it's the person who manages the offense the best which gives you better production than a player who may be more athletically gifted.

For Ganz and his record-setting run in 16 starts which saw him tie or break 25 records at Nebraska, he was able to do a lot of things. But he didn't have a Peyton Manning arm. He didn't have Michael Vick moves. And he wasn't as fast as Steve Young.

He was a good all-around athlete, who may not have done any one thing great, but he seemed to do everything well.

But what Ganz brought to the table that neither Sam Keller could or Zac Taylor could before that, was mobility that could be used as a weapon.

No, he was never going to scare anyone with his potential in running the option, but he could run the option. He wasn't going to dazzle fans and frighten Defensive Coordinators with his athleticism outside of the pocket, but he could move.

He gave Nebraska an aspect to their offense that was more wishful thinking since the West Coast arrived at Nebraska.

Sam Keller, starting all but the last three games of the season, which he missed due to a broken collarbone, ran the ball 25 times on the year. Most of those were simply him moving out and trying to avoid a sack, rather than this being a designed run-play. But his strengths weren't in his legs, illustrated by the -78 yards he ultimately had on the year.

And while many may remember the great drive against USC, where it was literally Zac Taylor's feet which moved the ball down the field, including the naked bootleg he executed for the score, he too wasn't going to do down in the annals of Husker lore as a dual threat, finishing his two-year career with 136 attempts for -73 yards
.

Joe could run.

He wasn't Eric Crouch, but he went forward when he ran the ball, instead of the other way.

In his three games as a starter last year Ganz had 20 rushes, netted 93 yards and scored three touchdowns with his feet. As a starter for the entire 2008 campaign he had 98 rushes, 258 yards and five Tds.

Cody Green

That's 118 times he ran the ball either as part of a designed play or in just trying to avoid pressure in the backfield. But if you take the average yards per carry of his predecessors, Taylor averaging -0.5 yards per rush for his Husker career and Keller who averaged -3.1 yards, that is around -1.8 average between the two of them.

Given that scenario the 351 yards Ganz had gained would have been 212.4 yards the wrong way.

For Witt's part he's not going fool anyone with the option, though, he did have a touchdown run against the Oklahoma Sooners in mop-up duty, when the Sooners were the ones doing the mopping up. Four recorded rushes this last season, totaling 20 yards and the previously mentioned score. Lee, obviously the better runner of the two, ran it twice for 18 yards.

Lee's more compact size (Witt is 6-4 versus Lee who is close to 6-2) make him more logical for that role. But the questions have lingered since he arrived as to whether he gets the offense, can manage it in every situation and can lead his team.

But realistically, neither has proven anything as of yet.

But they have knowledge of this offense, which to many, is the biggest battle outside of just adjusting to Division 1-A, and believe it or not, I'd say both still have yet to prove that as well.

NEWCOMER SURPRISE?

Waiting in the wings are a host of players, all but one already here, true freshman Cody Green enrolling just this month at Nebraska.

With redshirt freshman Kody Spano, you have a young man that by all accounts is very sharp. But what I have been surprised at over this last season was that when there was simulation needed for some of the quarterbacks Nebraska would be facing like Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor and Baylor's Robert Griffin, it was Spano who got the job.

 

Now, he can't move like either of those, but he's obviously not bad in that department, or else they would have had someone else. So, good sign for the Huskers there, if they are looking to try and keep the offense pointed more toward a Joe Ganz style than something they ran with both Keller and Taylor.


During his senior season at Stephenville High School, Kody threw for 2,263 yards and 23 touchdowns, while completing better than 62 percent of his passes. He added 11 touchdowns on the ground as well, rushing for 366 yards that season.

The other serious prospect right now is, of course, Cody Green.

Patrick Witt

On paper he's as versatile as they come, standing 6-4, weighing 220 pounds, with a good arm, great mobility and a steady head in the pocket.

His senior season stats are a little ridiculous as he led his Dayton High School team to just a game away from state title lore.

Over 65 percent of his passes complete. 3,265 yards on 230 completions, and while he threw a whopping 35 touchdowns, he threw only four interceptions on the season.

Then there is what he's done on the ground:

This last season as he was putting together a year where he passed for over 300 yards in a game twice, he was putting up some pretty impressive rushing numbers as well. Eight times he ran for 100 yards or more in a game, three times over 150 and against Brenham in early December he amassed an amazing 270 yards with his feet.

1610 yards total, averaging over a hundred yards a game, most running backs can't put up his numbers, and Green only went 3,200/1,600-plus, passing/rushing, his final year of prep ball. And with 25 touchdowns rushing to go with the 35 passing, that's 60 touchdowns he directly accounted for in one season.

OH, THOSE QUARTERBACKS

This makes one think back to the recent woes Nebraska has had with big-name quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert, a Missouri native and one-time Husker commit, got cold feet when the coaching situation at Nebraska went south and there was no way to know of who would be gone or retained. He changed and went to his home team, the Missouri Tigers. Then there's Josh Freeman, the physically freakish Kansas State Wildcat who had been a Husker for what seemed like forever, until Ron Prince, then a first-year guy with KSU, convinced Freeman and his father to change their mind and head down to Manhattan.

Harrson Beck was considered to be Bill Callahan's first marquee prep quarterback at Nebraska. But following one little stint where Callahan pulled Beck's redshirt during the Kansas State game, the second to last one of the season, Beck opted out the next season, leaving the program with nobody knowing a thing about it until his feet were back home in Florida. Beck transferred to N.C. State, the other school which was recruiting him the most his senior year before he committed to be a Cornhusker.

Kody Spano

The list goes on: How about Curk Dukes, the kid who never had a chance even before he got to Lincoln, considered by some to be the next Scott Frost, but with four years instead of only two. He was the savior of the program, or so every Husker fan hoped. Then there was Joe Dailey, who came from Jersey, and was supposed to be this smooth transition under Frank Solich as they tried to implement more pro style concepts into an option-oriented way of doing things.

Dailey wasn't the five star, but it does seem ironic that the two quarterbacks most significant in Nebraska's changeover from the old offense to the new, were two quarterbacks who many didn't give a big chance of doing a whole lot.

Now Taylor had a little more going for him in terms of rankings. After all, he did go to a Division 1-A school on scholarship right out of high school, which was followed by a run at Butler College which took him all the way to the national title game.

Ganz may have come to Nebraska on scholarship, but Taylor went to Wake Forest out of high school, whereas Nebraska beat out Eastern Michigan to "lure" Joe further into the midwest.

It's pretty safe to say that Nebraska has yet to have a "marquee" quarterback in this prototypical system pan out, whether it's in just making it to Nebraska or doing something once they do.

Green could be the first.

OR NOT

Taylor Martinez would like everyone to know that he shouldn't be ruled out of this equation either.

Maybe not his first year, but he thinks he can do it. After all, he's got a nice resume' backing him up. Check this out:

As a 2008 senior, Martinez led Corona (Calif.) Centennial to the CIF State D-I Championship. Finished with 3,019 yards passing, 28 touchdown passes, seven interceptions on 61% percent. Ran for 12 rushing touchdowns and 750 yards rushing. Named Team MVP, Big VIII MVP, CIF-SS Inland Division Player of the Year, HSI Player of the Year, GoldenStatePreps.com SoCal Offensive Player of the Year, L.A. Times Player of the Year and MaxPreps.com Player of the Year.

USC commit quarterback Matt Barkley was eligible for at least one of the awards listed above. He didn't get it. Martinez did. Being named California High School Player of the Year is an honor for either side of the ball and any position. In fact, according to Scout.com 85 players in the state of California alone, rank higher than Martinez. Yet, Martinez outdid them all.

Taylor Martinez

At 6-2 and 185 pounds, he could remind you of Joe Ganz as far as his frame. But with a reported 4.4/40, therein lies a huge difference. That kind of speed along with his throwing motion, which is considered a little unorthodox, is reason why people project him to defense rather than the position he earned a ton of hardware playing just this last season.

Martinez told us himself that it was this season which told him that yes, he would be willing to play other positions, but not until he gets a shot, a real shot to play QB. "I think it's changed more me wanting to play quarterback, after my season, because I did so well," Martinez said. "I am going to start off at quarterback first, and if it doesn't work out I will go to whatever position they need me to play."

You could say that Martinez' gift is also his curse, his legit two-way athleticism getting him pigeonholed into one position, while he has the numbers and certainly the awards, to prove that he could play what he considers his primary position quite well.

AND?

So, there isn't a lack of names going into the Spring, but there is a whole lot of inexperience.

With that being said, it's no secret that Witt and Lee will be given the advantage over everyone else, as well they should. But Spano now has a year under his belt, though, he's spent much of his time running the offense of the team Nebraska would play that following weekend, versus the one he plans on running in the future.

Can a true freshman step in during the Spring and actually make it happen? Can a true freshman do enough in the Fall to consider strong merit at making the three-deep?

The answer to both is probably going to be "no."

We won't discount what either's potential is, but it's potential and right now that's it.

Just like running backs, no matter how good, need time in this system to figure out blocking. Likewise quarterbacks coming fresh into this system will have to learn how to think about a lot of things nobody ever even hinted at during their prep days.

Green has the all the numbers, Martinez has all the awards and Spano has a year here working with the system to a degree, but more than that Spano has had now a full year with his team. There are lots of upsides to all of them. But the fact of the matter is, as wide open as this race seems to be, it's going to take a special effort by the trio to make enough inroads on the established duo, and perhaps take their spot for themselves.

As to who we think will eventually be the guy between Witt and Lee, I guess it comes down to what Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson believes is going to help his team score the most points. They won't be able to run from the QB position like they did this last year if Witt is at the helm. But there is some question about Lee and his ability to run this offense consistently and efficiently.

Those are two questions you can bet that we will have some solid answers to over the Spring, green jerseys or not. And while many may not agree with me in believing that there should be a solid number one coming out of Spring ball, I think it's best for the team if that's the case.

If you have that one guy, you can really start to build chemistry. You can really start to lay down the foundation over the Summer, which is one of the most important times of the year. If that quarterback takes the leadership role and runs with it, you got yourself a winner. If they don't, then come Fall you might have to find someone else.

Heroes may be made during the season, but winners are made when there isn't a season even being played. I think placing that title of being the guy on their shoulders before Summer starts, is the way to find out if they are really the guy before the Summer ends.

And right now I honestly don't know who that's going to be.

But guess what? We have a legit quarterback controversy once again.

Water coolers beware


Big Red Report Top Stories