Nebraska’s offensive struggles lead Pelini, staff to ponder making quarterback change

By Eric Olson, AP
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nebraska mulls possible change at quarterback

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska fans’ voices have been heard. They want a quarterback change.

More important, coach Bo Pelini might want one, too.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Pelini said when asked if he would consider making freshman Cody Green the starter after the Cornhuskers turned in another lethargic offensive performance in Saturday’s 31-10 loss to Texas Tech.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said after the game that he wasn’t ready to declare the job open, but that could change by the time the team returns to practice Monday.

Fans at Memorial Stadium chanted Green’s name in the second half as Zac Lee continued to struggle. Green took over in the middle of the fourth quarter and led Nebraska’s only touchdown drive.

With the Big 12 North race wide open, this might be a good time to make a change. The Huskers (4-2, 1-1) play Iowa State (4-3, 1-2) this Saturday and then travel to Baylor (3-3, 0-2) before what figures to be tougher games against nationally ranked Oklahoma and Kansas.

Green, for his part, continues to be the dutiful understudy.

“You’ve got to stay calm. I’m not the guy. Zac’s the guy,” Green said. “If I get in, I get in.”

Lee said he isn’t worried about having to fight for his job.

“We’re always competing in practice,” he said. “That hasn’t changed since day one.”

The problems, to be sure, go deeper than who’s calling the signals. Top running back Roy Helu Jr. has a banged-up shoulder, the offensive line is underperforming and prone to committing silly penalties and receivers are dropping too many passes.

“We’re thinking about a lot of changes. Every position,” a testy Pelini said.

The offensive issues were masked in three games against teams from the Sun Belt Conference. The Huskers averaged 472 yards and 47 points against lightweights Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Those averages drop to 297 yards and 17 points against BCS opponents Virginia Tech, Missouri and Texas Tech. The Huskers have scored touchdowns in only two of 12 quarters in those games.

Lee was 16 of 22 against Texas Tech, but his completions went for only 128 yards. He missed open receivers and hesitated to get off passes, which in part led to his getting sacked four times.

Green was not outstanding, going just 7 for 16 for 87 yards. He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass, but he also was intercepted deep in Tech territory. He also took a delay penalty.

“What I liked about Cody is that he really competed,” Watson said. “He made some nice throws. He does a nice job of keeping his composure and poise.”

Pelini, whose team fell out of the Top 25 for the first time this season, said his offense must get tougher.

“The first thing I want to see is us being able to run the football consistently and knock somebody off the football,” he said.

Pelini has supported Watson publicly, but the offensive coordinator’s play calling has been the target of sharp media and fan criticism.

Helu is averaging 103 yards a game for the season, but he gained only 88 against Missouri and 68 against Texas Tech before sitting out the fourth quarter with a stinger. As a team, Nebraska averaged 2.8 yards per rushing attempt against Tech.

Other than a touchdown pass to Mike McNeill against Missouri, the tight ends have all but disappeared the past four games.

The offensive line has not created enough push and has compounded its problems by committing penalties, none bigger than guard Ricky Henry’s personal foul after the Huskers moved inside the Tech 5-yard line in the second half.

Leading receiver Niles Paul scored two TDs against Missouri, but against Tech he forgot to go after the ball after he fumbled a cross-field lateral. Red Raider defensive end Daniel Howard scooped it up and ran it back 82 yards for a score.

Curenski Gilleylen, who showed big-play potential against the Sun Belt opponents, would have scored Saturday on a 76-yard pass from Green — but he couldn’t hang on after the ball hit him in the hands.

“We’ve got to get some things fixed,” Watson said. “It’s that plain, that simple. We don’t beg off from it.”

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