Many folks in Husker Nation were ready to see the designated future of the program, freshman QB Cody Green, assume a larger role against Arkansas State after his performance in the season opener against Florida Atlantic.
His 49-yard run that led to the Huskers' final touchdown had visions of Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier dancing in the heads of 85,000+ dressed in red at Memorial Stadium. They witnessed a glimpse of the future and wanted to see more of it—now.
Problem is, there's this other guy named Zac Lee who is the starting quarterback for this year's Nebraska Cornhuskers. And after Lee's performance on Saturday against the Red Wolves, it doesn't look like he's going to get out of the way anytime soon.
Prior to this year, we didn't really know much about the junior QB from San Francisco. In fact, during last week's Missouri-Illinois game, ESPN broadcaster Ron Franklin didn't recognize his name when it appeared on a fan's T-shirt as one of several quarterback targets for Mizzou LB Sean Weatherspoon.
In Nebraska's first game of the season against FAU, Lee's command of the huddle and presence on the field were better than expected. Although his numbers were good—he completed 15 of 22 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns—it was the Huskers' running game that dominated FAU in the 49-3 victory.
Which was just fine for Nebraska fans. They just wanted Lee to manage the game, not make mistakes, and let Nebraska's talented running backs chew up yards and opponents. Oh, and please make sure you take care of things while Cody Green is being groomed to lead the Huskers back to national prominence.
Then Arkansas State came to Lincoln on Saturday.
FAU had a few good players but were over-matched from the opening kickoff. Arkansas State was supposed to provide a bigger challenge with more speed, athleticism, and overall talent.
But when Nebraska jumped out to a 21-0 lead en route to a 38-9 victory, it was readily apparent Zac Lee was capable of much more than being a game manager or program caretaker. He became the primary reason the Huskers are a serious contender for a Big 12 North division title.
There was no reining in the offense or depending on the running game on Saturday. In fact, Arkansas State out-gained the Huskers on the ground. But offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was able to take what the defense was giving them because he knew something that no one else did: Zac Lee can do it all.
He completed 27 of 35 passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns. He ran seven times for 28 yards. He has an incredibly strong, accurate arm that can make all of the throws, including the hardest throw in football: the 20+ yard deep out.
In his first two starts, the offense has turned the ball over only once. And, he has a full command of the offensive huddle and the respect of his teammates.
Now, no one is claiming Lee will win the Heisman or lead Nebraska to a national championship in 2009 after beating up on two teams from the Sun Belt Conference. In fact, he has a very difficult test coming up this weekend against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and there will be growing pains as the season progresses.
But after his performance on Saturday, Husker fans may not have to wait to see their quarterback of the future. He may be starting right now.
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