Lee's fast start not unexpected

September, 16, 2009
9/16/09
4:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


It’s been the kind of early start that has Nebraska fans reminiscing about all the storied quarterbacks who have played for the Cornhuskers in the past.

Sure, there’s that Heisman Trophy winner named Eric Crouch, but he was more of a runner anyway. Tommie Frazier, all he did was run the option and win national championships.
Bruce Thorson/US Presswire
Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee is starting his Cornhuskers career well.

But as far as pure passers, there have been few to match new starter Zac Lee, whose deep arm has some pundits calling him Nebraska’s most accomplished pocket passer since Vince Ferragamo in the mid-1970s.

Lee leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency after two games and ranks seventh nationally. He’s thrown for 553 yards and six touchdowns in the kind of debut that the junior said he always expected once he received his starting opportunity.

“I’d like to say I have pretty high expectations for myself, so I feel like I’m pretty much right on track,” Lee said.

Nebraska’s new quarterback was the Cornhuskers’ biggest question coming into the season. And Lee, a junior who transferred into the Nebraska program in January 2007 from San Francisco City College, appears to have answered most of those early concerns with an unexpectedly quick start.

His early work was punctuated by a 340-yard, four-TD pass effort last week that sparked the Cornhuskers’ 38-9 triumph over Arkansas State. Most impressively, he distributed the ball to 11 different receivers while playing.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has been impressed with Lee’s early work, but not stunned.

“I think Zac is doing what we thought he was capable of doing,” Pelini said. “I’ve said all along that I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. I think if you asked anybody associated with our team they feel the same way. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”

But some are wondering how he will handle his first road game against a traditional power like Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 46-7-1 against nonconference teams at Lane Stadium since 1991, winning 31 straight nonleague games.

Despite those daunting odds, Lee is excited about his team’s opportunity heading into Saturday’s game.

"This is what college football is all about,” Lee said. “Going into places like that, a great atmosphere and just competing. That’s why this is fun.”

His coaches believe that Lee won’t wilt in the heightened competitive atmosphere.

“This dude is a cool customer, man,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told reporters earlier this week. “He’s a ballplayer. None of that stuff is going to bother him. He’s a cool dude.”

Some of Watson’s confidence stems from Lee’s bloodlines. His father, Bob, was a quarterback in the NFL for 12 seasons and was active in developing his son’s talents.

That detail has produced a quarterback who appears impervious to some of the typical concerns that would worry coaches about many first-game starters on the road.

“He’s been raised by a professional football player and he gets it,” Watson said. “He understands it. He’s been around it his whole life. It’ll be nothing to him.”

But playing the Hokies will represent a step up after his first two games against FAU and Arkansas State.

“I’d imagine things might move a little faster,” Lee said. “You’ll probably have to be a little more precise with things overall. We need to be more precise and detailed because of the caliber of athletes and the coaching they have.”

Saturday’s game could be judged as a litmus test for the No. 19 Cornhuskers, who are still looking for a breakout victory that would grab national attention for Pelini’s program.

The Cornhuskers will bring in a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s game -- longest since winning 13 straight games in 2000-01.

A win over the Hokies would be a signal to the nation that Pelini’s team is getting closer to the levels of the Cornhuskers of old.

“This is a great opportunity for us, especially against a team like Virginia Tech that has had such long-term success,” Lee said. “I think this is something that we're really looking forward to.”

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