Ganz’s patience pays off for NU
By STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Journal Star ANALYSIS
Well, Nebraska coaches always have insisted the competition was close.
“Very, very, very close,” Husker offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Saturday.
Watson understands the perception outside the program — that quarterback Sam Keller held a sizable advantage in competition with Joe Ganz for the starting job this past spring and during preseason camp this past August.
“I sort of privately chuckled because people weren’t seeing what I saw (in practice),” Watson said.
You probably know the rest of the story. Keller wins the job and directs the Nebraska offense before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury near the end of the ninth game. Ganz takes over and, in two starts, posts staggering numbers — 55 for 90 passing (61.1 percent) for 915 yards and 11 touchdowns, with four interceptions.
Ganz, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior from suburban Chicago, received enthusiastic cheers from tailgaters as he walked with his parents and friends to their cars after Nebraska’s 73-31 home win against Kansas State on Saturday. The Huskers rebounded from the previous week’s 76-39 loss at Kansas.
It’s easy to see why Ganz quickly has become a fan favorite, if not an inspirational figure.
He retained his focus and competitive zeal even after losing a close race to Keller. Ganz’s poise and performance in the last two games are testaments not only to his confidence running a complex version of the West Coast offense, but also to his willingness to keep improving throughout the season even though there were no guarantees he would see any game action.
As the season progressed, Watson said, Ganz’s precision in practice increased along with his hunger to play. Ganz didn’t mope around and feel sorry for himself. By now we know the kid’s a fighter, as trite as that may sound.
“That’s his edge,” Watson said. “His intangibles should never get lost in the sauce.“
So, what exactly gave Keller the edge over Ganz in August, when Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan determined the starter?
For one thing, Keller was “managing” the offense better at the time, Watson said. In other words, Keller was commanding the huddle well. He was making the right calls at the line of scrimmage. He was making sound decisions with the ball.
What’s more, “I think when you get in competition, sometimes you press,” Watson said Saturday, choosing his words carefully. “I got a feeling for what Joe was doing (in August) and what he’s learned by sitting there (on the bench this season) and watching. He realized, ’I don’t have to press the ball. I just have to manage the offense.’“
Is it fair to wonder what the offense might have been like if Ganz had played the entire season? It’s probably not fair, Watson said, reiterating Keller’s strong management of the offense.
“That’s all this offense needs, is someone to take us out and manage us,” Watson said.
Ganz seems to be managing quite well, thank you. And now he gets to enjoy Nebraska’s bye week. The Huskers (5-6 overall, 2-5 Big 12) wrap up the regular season at Colorado (5-6, 3-4) on Nov. 23, with bowl eligibility on the line. This weekend, Ganz plans to travel to his hometown, Palos Heights, Ill., as Husker players get a couple of days off.
“He’s going to get some good home cooking,” father Mike Ganz said. “Anything I make on the grill, he likes. He’s not exactly fussy.“
Former Nebraska linebacker Barrett Ruud, leading tackler this season for the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4), said Sunday he was “a wreck” Saturday as he watched from the Husker sideline as his brother, NU senior linebacker Bo Ruud, played in his final home game. Bo recorded four tackles.
Barrett wanted badly to see his brother and his ex-Nebraska teammates have success Saturday.
“I basically live and die with every play, it seems like,” said Barrett, who was enjoying the Bucs’ bye week.
His thoughts on Ganz: “I was just thoroughly impressed. He was very relaxed. He really grasps the offense well. He was making all of the right reads. Also, I really like that he can move around with his feet and buy time and make some throws, which is the hardest thing for a defense to deal with.”
Bob Davie, color analyst for ESPN and ABC, has seen plenty of both Kansas State and Colorado. In fact, he did commentary for K-State’s 47-20 win against CU on Oct. 13 in Manhattan, Kan.
Judging by Davie’s recent assessment, Nebraska has a heck of a shot to prevail in Boulder.
“K-State has much more team speed than Colorado, and I also think Kansas State has a really good quarterback, where I’m not sure (CU starter) Cody Hawkins is the answer just yet,” Davie said. “I think K-State is a more dangerous football team. Now, Colorado is a little bit better on defense than Kansas State.
“(But) Colorado can’t fall behind in games. (Tailback) Hugh Charles is the key guy. With that said, Colorado is a little bit easier to defend than some teams, because you’re not seeing a lot of quarterback runs. You’re not seeing any real option look.
“I think Nebraska will match up a little better against Colorado than Kansas State.“
So, how much does a Nebraska victory Nov. 23 complicate Tom Osborne’s decision regarding Callahan’s future as head coach? Answer: Probably not much. Too much damage already has been done. Too much thought already has gone into possible successors, according to my sources. But hey, you never know, right?
Rumor patrol: According to a source close to Callahan, there has been no discussion between Callahan’s representatives and NU officials regarding a contract settlement before the CU game, and the source doesn’t anticipate such discussion occurring. Callahan “enthusiastically looks forward to coaching against Colorado,” the source said Sunday.
Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or email@example.com.