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Eric Crouch calls Joe Ganz “the glue to Nebraska’s offense – an incredible competitor and an equally incredible decision-maker . . . a winner in everyone’s eyes.”
Tommie Frazier told a large Nebraska alumni audience in Chicago 13 months ago that Ganz, a junior, should be the Huskers’ starting quarterback in 2007 because he’d “paid his dues and gained the respect of all of his teammates.”
Scott Frost likes how aggressively Ganz attacks the game. “He looks like he’s in control of the game instead of the game being in control of him,” Frost said. “He doesn’t seem to back off from anything, and they ask him to do a lot.”
Steve Taylor says Ganz has “a level head,” giving him “the mind and the focus to carry all that weight he has on his shoulders – something Joey can do because he has so much respect for the program and understands what being a quarterback at the University of Nebraska is all about.”
Four Husker quarterback legends – the Heisman Trophy-winning Crouch; Heisman runner-up Frazier; Frost, who directed Nebraska to Tom Osborne’s third and final national championship; and Taylor, who led Nebraska to 31 wins and three major bowl games in the late 1980s – can’t wait for Ganz to step up on the national stage Saturday night when Virginia Tech comes to town.
They can’t wait because all four quarterbacks are eager to see how Ganz, the “dreamer” who lives in all of us, handles the pressure.
Ganz understands the spotlight will burn brighter than it has in any of his six previous quarterback starts, but he said his approach this week hasn’t been any different. “I try to prepare for every game like it’s a national championship game,” he said.
Three Goals: Big 12 North and Conference, BCS Titles
“We go out every day to accomplish the three goals we’ve set for ourselves – win the Big 12 North, win the Big 12 and win the BCS,” Ganz said. “I know most of our fans are just hoping we can get this program turned around. But that’s not what our team is thinking. We’re thinking bigger and better things. We don’t just want to get this program headed in the right direction. We want to win, and we want to win this year.
“There’s no reason we can’t do it,” Ganz said. “We have the talent, and we have the coaches. Since the first day they walked in the door, we’ve been building unity and teamwork and a love for each other. From winter conditioning and spring ball to the dog days of summer and all through fall camp, we’ve built a bond with each other. No one cares about any stat except one – getting a ‘W’ instead of an ‘L’. Not everybody bought into that last year. Everyone has bought in this year. No one wants to let Coach Pelini down or disappoint our coaches. The whole point of being a team is having each other’s backs. We’ll do anything to get the job done. We’ll do whatever it takes to win, and we don’t care how we do it – whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. We’re a team, and we’ll play as a team. That’s the attitude we have, and we’ll keep working together and keep fighting for each other all season long.”
No wonder the quarterback legends admire the heart that beats inside Ganz.
“Joey Ganz is a guy who will come out every week and prepare for each game like it’s the only game of the year,” Crouch said. “He’s so competitive, so decisive and such a winner. Those things are not teachable, and they’re not coachable. They just come from deep inside you, and we’re real fortunate that we have a player like Joey behind center. He’s a bottom-line leader. He has a focus, a tempo and a rhythm, and I expect him to play very well against Virginia Tech because he knows how to put his faith and his trust in his teammates.”
Frazier developed a respect for Ganz when he was named Nebraska’s Offensive Scout Team MVP in 2004. “I watched him in his labor of love, waiting patiently for his chance,” Frazier said. “I could tell he had the leadership, and I could tell his teammates felt the same way. When he didn’t get the nod, I became an even bigger fan of Joe Ganz. He’s a trooper. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t get down in the dumps. He pays his dues. Even though he deserved to be a two-year starter instead of one, he immediately showed how much more dangerous you are when you can use your legs as well as your arm.”
No one, including Ganz, will put Joe’s speed and footwork in the same category as Crouch, Frazier, Frost or Taylor, quarterback ghosts from seasons past.
Despite Limited Reps, He Made the Most of His Opportunity
“What struck me most about Joe last year was how tough it is for a back-up quarterback getting limited reps all year long to finally get his chance at Texas and to see how well he played almost immediately,” Frost said. “I think that speaks to Joe’s intelligence, as well as his toughness and his competitiveness. It takes most people time to adjust, but he obviously did a great job of preparing, even when it wasn’t his turn. He can make all the plays. He proved that when he ran for a touchdown, passed for one and caught a third one against New Mexico State.”
Taylor sees Ganz having the savvy and perhaps even the swagger that can help the Huskers get their groove back.
“We have a tradition of winning big games, especially at home, and Joe is the kind of leader it takes to bring back that tradition,” Taylor said. “You hear nothing but positive things coming from his teammates. You can tell how much they like him and respect him and look up to him as a leader – both on the field and in the locker room. That’s going to carry him – and the team – a long ways. Joe’s proven how he can overcome adversity, and that’s a lot of what college football is all about. Through everything, he’s stayed a very humble guy. He fits the mold of most Nebraska quarterbacks. He has some experience under his belt, and the coaching staff is putting him in position to be successful.”
Frazier agrees. “If Joe stays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much, Nebraska is going to win a lot of football games this year,” he said. “He’s steady, and that’s what you need at quarterback.”
Taylor said Ganz knows what his capabilities and strengths are. “I don’t think he’s going to try to do things he can’t do,” he said. “I like the way he hangs in there in the pocket. He’s willing to take a hit for his team.”
Crouch likes the way Ganz thinks. “We have a great chance to be in the Big 12 championship game. It’s not out of the question to win the Big 12 or even play for the national championship,” Crouch said. “Teams have had rough years before and then have come back to turn things around very quickly and play for the national title. I’m glad that’s our goal. It should be.”
Now co-defensive coorddinator at Northern Iowa, Frost prefers to be realistically optimistic. “Honestly, regardless of how these next three games (Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas Tech) turn out, the most important thing is the way these kids are playing,” he said. “They’re competing and hustling. Everything you’re seeing is a marked improvement in their approach to the game. Regardless of the outcome in the next three weeks, they’re moving ahead, and it’s exciting for Nebraska to take some swings at these kinds of teams again.”
During an off weekend for him, Frost was on the Nebraska sidelines when Ganz scored on a 33-yard option keeper against New Mexico State. He’s not surprised that Watson and Ganz have been communicating with Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne about the nuances of the option game. “As a defensive coach,” Frost said, “When you mix an element of that into a game plan, you can affect the way defenses have to prepare. Even when the option is used in a limited way, it can prove beneficial. And Coach Osborne is definitely the right guy to consult on that. He knows his stuff.”
Ganz Idolized Frazier and Identifies With Watson and Pelini
Ganz appreciates the support of Nebraska’s former quarterbacks as much as he values the trust of his teammates. “Tommie Frazier was one of my idols growing up,” he said.
And joining Crouch and fellow legend Johnny Rodgers as the only Huskers ever to throw for a touchdown, run for a touchdown and catch a touchdown in the same game was an indescribable accomplishment for someone who waited so long just to take a meaningful snap.
“I’ve always seen myself – and continue to see myself – as just another kid playing football,” Ganz said. “Every once in a while, you have to pinch yourself when you realize how many people are counting on you and the trust they put in you. It’s pretty special, and something I will never take lightly. The pressure might be there, but I’m so busy focusing on what needs to get done, I don’t think about it.”
Shawn Watson, Nebraska’s offensive coordinator, keeps Ganz’s mind racing on a daily basis. “It’s almost like we’re the same person, really,” Ganz said. “I know what he’d call, and he knows immediately what I’d call. We’re really in synch and in tune with each other’s thought process. People tell me I’m an offshoot of Shawn Watson, and I’m proud of that. He’s really taught me how to simplify the game and make it easier. Whatever success I’ve had, I owe to him. He has a real knack to explain every situation, and he leaves no stone unturned.”
Ganz also identifies with Bo Pelini, his head coach. “I’d like to coach someday, and when I do, I picture myself acting the same way he acts,” Ganz said. “All of the players like the way he handles himself. He’s very, very intense, but when he interacts with you, you can tell his interest in you goes well beyond football. He never talks down to anyone. It’s almost like talking to one of your buddies. He makes practices very physically demanding, but we all know that’s just what we needed. You don’t ever have to guess what Coach Pelini wants. There is no shade of gray to the man. Everything is pretty much black and white. He’s very direct in everything he communicates.”
Like coach, like quarterback. Teammates believe Ganz is equally straightforward. “Joe is very ambitious and very hungry,” offensive tackle Lydon Murtha said. “He’s in charge out there. I mean, he’s in charge of everybody, and there is no question. He’s not a guy I question. When he comes up to the line, he knows exactly what’s going on, and he instills confidence. He’s always motivating us and telling us where we’re supposed to go and how we need to hustle it up. His leadership rubs off on everybody.”
Offensive guard Matt Slauson said Ganz is as decisive as he is dedicated. He also said no player on the team spends as much time studying game film as Ganz.
Wide receiver Nate Swift has seen Ganz persevere through one obstacle after another and emerge from it all as a unique leader. “He’ll tell you no if you’re wrong, and if he’s wrong, he’ll tell you that, too,” Swift said. “He likes to keep guys in line. If someone’s slacking, he’ll get you right, and he’ll get you back in line. He has just the right balance of emotion in the huddle. He keeps everyone straight-headed on the field.”
Blue-Chip Recruits Lit a Fire Under Blue-Collar Guy
Wide receiver Todd Peterson thinks he understands how Ganz motivates himself. “When they kept bringing in these blue-chip quarterbacks, I think it lit a fire under Joe and gave him an edge,” Peterson said. “He’s a blue-collar guy who’s been willing to do everything possible to make sure that he could play in this offense and at this level. I think the more you say no to somebody, the more they want something. You have to give the guy a lot of credit. Most quarterbacks with his talent wouldn’t have hung around or stuck it out. They would have transferred somewhere else where they could play. But Joe has a lot of energy and is one of the most competitive people I know – whether it’s seven-on-seven, intramural basketball or checkers on Tuesday afternoon. He just wants to win in whatever he does.”
Frankly, Ganz, as well as his teammates, are tired of talking and ready to play.
“It’s all roses when you’re 3-0,” Peterson said. “When you get the big boys coming into your place, we all know it’s going to be tough. We’re going to face some adverse situations, and we’re going to find out pretty quick what we’re made of – whether we like it or not. Joe has been competing and battling for five years for this kind of opportunity. It’s a testament to his character and his will. He stuck around, stuck it out and believed in himself. And you know what? We believe in him. This is a big game, and he’s no longer the backup. He’s in charge, and I’m glad he is. No one deserves it more than he does.”