College Football Nation: Vince Ferragamo
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It wasn’t anything unexpected or shocking as far as Bo Pelini was concerned.
The Nebraska coach had seen his team battle and come close in the first half against Missouri. The way the Cornhuskers had played early, Pelini figured it was just a matter of time before his team finally turned things around.
“We talked about it at the half,” Pelini said. “We said we wouldn’t walk out of here without a win. We just kept fighting and just never let the game get away.”
Pelini seemed so matter-of-fact when he described the rally, it almost detracted from the momentousness of the Cornhuskers’ wild 27-12 comeback over Missouri.
It was unquestionably the biggest victory in Pelini’s short head coaching career. Not only did he slay the program’s most obvious recent monster in Missouri, but he did it with the panache that the Cornhuskers used to play with when they were the most feared program in the Big Eight and the early stages of the Big 12.
This one was remarkably like the ones that the Cornhuskers used to win over Missouri during their 24-game winning streak over the Tigers from 1979-2002.
|Jamie Squire/Getty Images|
|Zac Lee sparked Nebraska with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes.|
But instead of needing a tipped pass or a gritty defensive stop to take the Victory Bell back to Lincoln, the Cornhuskers throttled Missouri with a blizzard of fourth-quarter points when little else had gone right for them earlier in the game.
Who would have thought that Zac Lee would start living up to those comparisons with former Cornhusker mad bomber Vince Ferragamo right before our very eyes?
Maybe Pelini. But few of the other wet spectators who braved the miserable elements at Faurot Field would have believed it.
Lee completed only 9 of his 27 passes for 79 yards through three quarters. There was little in that sputtering effort that would indicate he would erupt to throw back-to-back touchdowns and three touchdowns overall during a span of four pass attempts.
“I’d never had anything quite like this situation,” Lee said. “It just shows our coaches’ trust in us. For them to keep their faith in our offense and keep letting us go out and try to make plays -- we love them for it.”
The late passing binge was a huge turnaround for Lee, who had struggled in the Cornhuskers’ loss against Virginia Tech. Nebraska failed to score an offensive touchdown during a streak of seven quarters against BCS programs before the late charge.
Sure the Cornhuskers looked like world beaters during their unofficial Sun Belt title run. But they had produced 109 yards through three quarters against Missouri Thursday night during an effort that included nearly as many penalties and punts (eight each) as their nine first downs during that slow start.
But that all changed during a remarkable period of 3 minutes, 22 seconds that will be remembered as the time when Pelini’s program took its first major step as the North Division’s favorites.
Kansas has the ridiculously difficult cross-division schedule with games against Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma.
And with Nebraska staring at an upcoming schedule of home games against Texas Tech and Iowa State and a road game against a Robert Griffin-less Baylor, it’s not hard to imagine the Cornhuskers sitting at 7-1 when Oklahoma visits Lincoln on Nov. 7.
|Denny Medley/US Presswire|
|Bo Pelini and the Cornhuskers finally got on track in the fourth quarter.|
Pelini, however, wasn’t ready to go that far after the victory.
“Are we the team to beat in the North? Nah, I’m not going to appoint ourselves as that,” Pelini said. “We’ve still got to win some games ourselves.”
But after Nebraska's first conference game, it was hard for Lee to imagine a sweeter victory -- particularly after his team’s slow start and even faster finish in the elements.
“We probably couldn’t have started the Big 12 in any better way,” Lee said. “This is probably the best way it could have happened for us.
“I was digging deep from the beginning and we didn’t show up until the end. It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless. And we’ll always take a win.”
That moxie couldn't been a starker change from the Nebraska team that was humiliated 52-17 by Missouri in Lincoln last season.
And Pelini couldn't be happier.
"I think the whole football team grew up a little bit," Pelini said. "We're not the finished product and we still have a long way to go. But we're continuing to grow as a football team."
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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