Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Red-White Spring Game, 4/15

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee (13) looks for an open receiver as defensive lineman Fyn Anderson tries to break through the offensive line during Saturday's Red-White Spring Game at Memorial Stadium.

FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star

Let's keep this vanilla, the flavor of the day Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

After all, there's seemingly nothing complicated about Nebraska's quarterback situation.

So, just understand this: Tanner Lee enjoyed himself.

Big deal, right?

Well, it is a big deal because you wondered how well he would handle playing in front of a massive crowd — in this case, the 78,312 who showed up for the Red-White Spring Game.

"It was a lot of fun," Lee said. "I was joking with some of the guys that it was the first time I played in front of a big crowd that was on my side."

He said he felt comfortable. He looked comfortable. So, check another box. Lee can stay poised in the noise, as Bill Callahan used to say.

The tall Louisiana native showed some French Quarter cool, completing 13 of 19 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, while helping lead the Reds to a 55-7 win against a White team made up of reserve players.

A junior transfer from Tulane, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lee last saw action in a game in 2015. That's about to change — at least that's the prevailing wisdom. If Lee isn't named the starter sometime soon, it will shock a lot of folks who follow the program closely.

It would probably shock a lot of folks within the program.

The situation looks clean. No controversy. No division in the fan base.

A big crowd is indeed on his side.

Bottom line, Nebraska has a nice little situation at quarterback with Lee, redshirt freshman Patrick O'Brien (11-for-17, 134 yards, one TD) and true freshman Tristan Gebbia, who captured fans' imagination with his 14-for-22, 194-yard effort through three quarters for the White team.

Gebbia's issue is lack of size. He's listed at 6-3, 180, although 180 seems generous. He's a wisp with a strong arm and knack for the game.

Thing is, he won't be a wisp for long. He's going to be a good one. He'll redshirt this year, but next year could get interesting at the position — interesting as in a bit crowded. Somebody may be the odd man out.

As for this year, Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he was unsure when he will reveal a pecking order at quarterback, but he's indicated it will occur sooner than later.

I'm betting word will come within the next 10 days.

Does Lee feel he did enough this spring to win the job?

"That's not up to me," he said. "I can just keep trying to play well." 

He was steady Saturday, and made a few memorable throws, particularly his 30-yard touchdown strike to slot receiver JD Spielman. The speedy Spielman angled into his route and gained slight separation on cornerback Dicaprio Bootle. Even so, Lee needed to drop the throw perfectly into a tight window.

After Lee completed the NFL-level pass, I'm guessing a common thought in the stadium was, "There's your starting quarterback."

When the day was done, there was the (probable) starting quarterback giving credit to Spielman, a trait of a leader.

"I trust JD to do that," Lee said. "He's a fiery guy. If I throw it up there, he'll go get it."

Lee carries himself with the confidence of a 19-game starter in college (2014 and 2015) and an appropriate amount of seriousness. Is he equipped mentally and emotionally to handle the inherent pressure of being a starting quarterback at Nebraska? Ask me Oct. 15. The Huskers by then will have played Oregon, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

But it's clear he possesses the requisite arm strength and accuracy. His footwork is excellent. He reads coverage well. He goes through his progressions. Best of all, he has that ultra-quick release. He lets loose passes with a flick of the wrist.

He's also a class act. To wit: He said he trusts that Riley, a 40-year coaching veteran, knows how to handle the quarterback competition.

Riley indeed seems to have a strong handle on it. He's managed the situation well all spring. Let's face it, his pleasant and patient demeanor reduces tension, a wonderful trait for a person running an operation as closely scrutinized as Husker football.

To wit: He smiled broadly when he was asked by a reporter if O'Brien opened the scrimmage with the first unit as a result of winning a coin flip with Lee. They've done it that way all spring.

"What do you guys think?" Riley asked reporters in a lighthearted manner. "Was that a coin flip? Or was that a sign?"

He said it was a coin flip.

Of course it was a coin flip.

This isn't a controversy, amigos. Not this year. All signs point to Lee being the starter.

However, he is taking nothing for granted. He indicated he might feel nervous as he awaits word.

"I got finals coming up," he said. "I'll be focused on that, so that will help."

He pretty much aced his final exam of spring practice. And, yeah, it seemed like a big deal.