November 22, 2008

Witt, Lee preparing for potential starting QB role

Zac Lee does his best to ignore the metaphorical giant, pink elephant in the room, though he admits he's definitely thought about it numerous times this season.

Patrick Witt says he thinks about it every day.

For both players, that pink elephant is the fact that in a matter of a couple months, one of them will likely be the front runner to become Nebraska's next starting quarterback.

It's a fact that has been the topic of discussion all season, but even more so since senior Joe Ganz was knocked out of practice earlier this week with an injury. Though the consensus answer was the Ganz would be fine to finish out NU's regular season next week against Colorado, the reality of how close both Lee and Witt are to taking over the Huskers' offense was never so apparent.

Even if Ganz is fine like everyone says, the next month of practices from now until the bowl game will be somewhat of an audition for Nebraska's two young signal callers. Before they know it, there's a very good chance one of them will become the face of Nebraska's offense.

"I think about that every day," Witt said. "That's got to be your motivation when you're a back-up. I've got to prepare myself like that every day, regardless of next year being right around the corner. I've got to take that approach every day."

On the contrary, Lee said he's too busy worrying about this season than what's going to happen in a few months.

"You kind of have to not let it get into your mind," Lee said. "It'd be amazing, and it's hard not to think about it, but we've got two more games left, and really, we're kept so busy being here and focusing on football and focusing on school that it's hard to think about much else than the here and now and what you have to do to continuously get better."

Even with the departure of Ganz at the end of the season, there's still no guarantee either quarterback will be named the starter in 2009. Incoming four-star recruit Cody Green will enter the mix next fall, and he'll bring with him more hype and the hopes of fans than any NU freshman quarterback in recent memory.

For now, though, let's look at the two candidates currently on the team.

In Witt, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman from Wylie, Texas, the Huskers get a big, strong and athletic quarterback who spent his entire high school career running an offense almost exactly like Nebraska's spread system.

Witt played well enough during fall camp to earn the No. 2 spot behind Ganz to open the season, and has held it all season. In three games, he's seen limited action in mop-up duty, completing 6-of-8 passes for 48 yards and rushing three times for 17 yards, including a 16-yard scamper for a touchdown against Oklahoma.

Then there's Lee, a 6-2, 210 sophomore from San Francisco who has steadily improved all season to the point where he saw his most extensive game action last week against Kansas State. In his second-career appearance, Lee rushed two times for 17 yards and completed his only pass for eight yards.

While Witt may possess more size and a bit more experience running a spread offense, Lee, no slouch running the football in his own right, also holds the title of having one of the strongest arms of the team.

He said last week he and senior quarterback Beau Davis had a competition to see who could throw the ball the furthest, and Lee won with a throw of right around 70 yards before the ball hit the ground.

Both quarterbacks obviously bring their own strengths to the table, which make these next few weeks before the Colorado game and on into preparation that much more valuable in terms of gaining as much experience as possible running NU's offense before the competition really kicks into gear at the start of spring practice.

"I think (the extra practices will) be great," Witt said. "We didn't get to go to a bowl game last year, so it's going to be new to me. But talking to the older guys, they kind of treat it like a pre-spring practice, so they'll be a lot of competition and getting a lot of the younger guys reps, myself included. I think it'll be good for everybody."

Lee definitely agreed.

"Last year, it would've been awesome to have those three or four weeks of bowl practices just to keep building on what I started. So I think weeks will be important once we get into bowl preparation and everything, just getting more reps and getting more comfortable."

Since the beginning of the season, both quarterbacks said they have tried to soak in as much as they can of how Ganz has handled the pressures of being the starter both on and off the field.

Along with trying to win football games, the starting quarterback essentially becomes one of the faces and voices of the team, thus holding him and his actions to a higher standard than any other player of the team.

Lee and Witt said Ganz has been an invaluable mentor in preparing for potentially taking on that role.

"I watch everything Joe does," Witt said. "I think he's been a really good example for me, for the rest of the quarterbacks, not only with how he plays on Saturdays, but how to manage relationships on the team and also the media. I think he's been a great example. I really appreciate him being here, and I think he's done a great job this year."

Said Lee: "You try and take the good things you see everyone do, whether it's Joe or someone at a different position. You try and find what works best for you, and you see things that are helping other guys have success and you try and make it work for yourself."

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