The best advice Joe Ganz ever got on being a college starting quarterback was just to not screw it up.
Those were the words of wisdom from former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor when Ganz asked him for help in preparing for his first year as a starter this offseason.
At first glance, the advice probably seems about as helpful as telling a running back not to get tackled. However, Taylor's words hit home with Ganz, as the senior knows full well how his mistakes can impact a game.
In starting the final three games of last season, Ganz was able to throw for 16 touchdowns, but he also had seven interceptions that played a big part in his 1-2 record as a starter.
This year, the senior from Palos Heights, Ill., is taking a more confident approach, and with it he hopes to fully heed his predecessor's advice.
"I was talking to Zac about what he did to go through and prepare for his senior year when he knew he was going to start and he had all those expectations on his shoulders," Ganz said. "He gave me a lot of advice, and I was like, 'You got anything else?' And he said, 'Yeah, just don't screw it up.' That's probably the best advice. Just go out there, play, have fun, don't throw any picks and don't screw it up."
In many ways, the fate of Nebraska's offense this season has been placed in Ganz's hands. Along with the inherent responsibilities that go with being a quarterback, Ganz has also had to shoulder the load of being the leader of a youth-laden team both on and off the field.
But what in previous years was a quiet, modest young signal caller has now evolved in the definition of a senior quarterback. Ganz is undoubtedly the leader of the offense, and it's a role he's taken head on.
During the middle of a drill we were kind of sloppy and Coach (Shawn Watson) was about to go up and get in somebody's tail, and I said step back, let me take care of it," Ganz said. "When it comes down to it on the field, Watson's not going to be out there. They're going to have to respond to me in the fourth quarter or when we need a clutch play.
"It's just the type of leader that I'm going to have to be for this team and it's the type of role that I'm going to be expected to accept."
Ganz's newfound self-confidence has apparently extended into the coaching staff. Though he has just three career starts under his belt, the Husker coaches talk about Ganz as if he were a returning three-year starter.
There's no question about it. Ganz is Nebraska's quarterback in every sense of the word.
"I saw (Sam Bradford[db]) from Oklahoma and obviously [db]Chase Daniel is a great player," NU head coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm not familiar with a lot of them (other quarterbacks in the Big 12). They put up some numbers, but I can tell you I'd take our guy. He's my favorite."
Examples of Ganz's maturity can be seen in a number of aspects, but one of the more obvious of which has been simply his play on the field this offseason. Last year, Ganz admittedly tried to do too much at times, and his seven interceptions were the consequences.
According to his coaches, though, Ganz has improved immeasurably in the pocket, as he's now more disciplined and smart with the football. A perfect example is the one interception he's thrown thus far through fall camp. Ganz, however, is quick to point out that one pick came off a tipped pass.
"The most impressive thing is he really knows where to take the ball," Watson said. "He has ability to cut up the defense and he really knows where to go. He understands our schemes and it's a user-friendly scheme for a quarterback. He's got it. I'm really pleased with his efficiency. He's been very efficient. He's been very cool under pressure.
"Every day we bring the house at him and we make him work. We make our line work and we make our backs work. He's done a really nice job."
Watson went on to compare Ganz to two quarterbacks he coached while serving the position at Colorado in Joel Klatt and Mike Machete, saying he saw similarities in that all three were smart players who excelled in their respective offensive systems.
"Those guys were great players and they were great team players and great system players," Watson said. "That's what I see in Joe. Joe knows what he's doing. He really knows his job."
Having that kind of support and confidence from his coaches has only made Ganz develop as both a quarterback and a leader. At a position where confidence is arguably as valuable as any athletic ability, Ganz said he has flourished under Pelini and Watson.
"To have Coach Watson and Coach Pelini have my back and have confidence in me really helps build your own confidence higher," Ganz said. "It's been nothing but great, and I can't thank those guys enough for the way they've accepted me as quarterback here."
When it all comes down to it, though, Ganz knows he'll have to justify his coaches' confidence in him with his play on the football field. After a good spring and even better first three weeks of fall camp, Ganz' evolution as a quarterback will come full circle in a little more than a week.
There will be many ways to judge his performance, and much will be made of the numbers he puts up in the box score week in and week out. For Ganz, though, there's one stat that matters in the end, and that's the team's win total.
As Taylor would say, as long as he doesn't screw it up, that number should take care of itself.
"The most important thing is to win," Ganz said. "That's the only thing I measure against other quarterbacks in the Big 12. I'm not looking for a certain amount of touchdowns or a certain amount of yards. Hopefully we'll just have more wins. That's really all I'm going to measure my season about.
"If I need to throw for 500 yards in a game to win, I'll do it. If I need to throw for 200 and rush for a couple more, I'll do whatever it takes."
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