My list of the toughest assignments (i.e., dirtiest jobs) at Saturday’s Nebraska-Kansas football game:
No. 3 — Anyone who had walk around selling ice-cold beverages.
No. 2 — Being the baton twirler for either of the two bands.
No. 1 — That group of NU students who showed up shirtless, and then had to keep showing their disrespect for the near-freezing conditions so the TV cameras who’d panned them at the game’s start wouldn’t later expose them as being rational thinkers.
Those duties, of course, were away from the real field of play — and paled in comparison to what Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz endured while leading the Huskers to bowl eligibility with a 45-35 win against Kansas.
Ganz will play down his 28-for-37 passing performance that produced 324 yards and three touchdowns — his eighth game of 300 yards or more and sixth with three TDs. But someone with a lesser tolerance for pain or passion for the game would have been seriously challenged to finish Saturday’s game, let alone be a difference-maker.
It was during the second quarter, on Nebraska’s sixth offensive possession of the game, when Ganz was chased on a rollout by Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen. Making a diving attempt at an ankle tackle, Mortensen inadvertently banged his helmet onto the top of Ganz’s right heel.
“Yeah, that hurt,” said Ganz, who popped up with a noticeable limp that, for a moment, made lots of folks think NU’s fortunes would rest in the untested hands of redshirt freshman Patrick Witt.
That thought never occurred to Nebraska’s senior quarterback, who, after firing a third straight incompletion, found Nate Swift for 10 yards on a fourth-and-5 play. Three plays later, on third-and-10, he threw a post-route strike to Chris Brooks for a game-tying 25-yard touchdown.
The Jayhawks were just beginning to feel Ganz’s pain.
After spending much of halftime receiving ice and electrical stimulation treatments, Ganz’s ‘reward’ for returning to action was to be flipped by linebacker Mike Rivera for a 12-yard sack on NU’s sixth play of the third quarter. That left him with a twisted and bruised knee, severe enough to cause the Huskers to call a timeout.
“That hurt a little bit more,” said Ganz, who on the next play fired a 12-yard completion to running back Roy Helu that gave Alex Henery the opportunity to make a 35-yard field goal.
Ganz was far from finished inflicting his damage.
After Kansas capitalized on a fumbled punt by Swift and regained the lead, Ganz went 5-for-5 for 62 of the 78 yards the Huskers needed to reach the end zone and go ahead for good on the next-to-last play of the third quarter.
“Nothing that Joe Ganz does surprises me. The guy is a competitor to the Nth degree,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “He plays from the heart. He’s a leader and that’s just who he is.
“That’s who he is every single day and that’s who he’s going to be 20 years from now. He’s got a lot of special qualities about him and we’re fortunate to have him be here.”
Nothing against Witt — he may be every bit as fierce a competitor as Ganz. But I wouldn’t have liked the Huskers’ chances very much had they been forced to play the final half without the senior from Palos Heights, Ill., who now is 364 yards from Zac Taylor’s school single-season passing record of 3,197 yards, set in 2006.
Taylor was the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year that season.
To this Nebraska team, Ganz is every bit as valuable.
“Joe’s a man,” Pelini said. “He would’ve fought me before he would’ve let me taken him out.”
Pelini then offered he would’ve won that battle.
After seeing the fight his quarterback displayed, I’m not so sure about that.
“I could’ve put that coat on and stood right by that heater and it’d be nice,” Ganz said when it was suggested the main reason he continued playing was that he didn’t want to freeze on the sideline. “But, I mean, you’re going to have to drag me off in a body bag off of that field.”
Reach Curt McKeever at 473-7441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.