LINCOLN — Zac Lee wasn’t spectacular Saturday in Nebraska’s 31-17 victory over Missouri at Memorial Stadium.
Lee replaced starting quarterback Taylor Martinez in the second half after the freshman suffered a bone bruise in the second quarter. Lee completed 1-of-3 passes for 11 yards and had two carries for 11 yards.
But the Huskers (7-1, 3-1 in the Big 12) didn’t need anything spectacular from the senior quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said it’s really just the opposite. Watson said Lee provides a calming influence for the Husker offense.
“It’s huge,” Watson said of Lee’s contribution. “In our locker room, not a coach or a player bats an eye. He’s Mr. Steady Eddie. He provides that confidence in our program. If we needed him to throw it 50 times, he would have gone in there and done that. He’s just a guy who is a great manager. Everybody, coaches and players alike, have great respect for Zac.
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“We can put the game in his hands and he could go out and manage the four-minute (offense) and do a great job.”
Watson said he didn’t make the call to take Martinez out. He said the trainers suggested it and Martinez himself knew he needed to come out of the game.
“Honestly it was Taylor,” Watson said. “Taylor knew he wasn’t at full speed. He already told me, ‘Hey coach, if we’re practicing tomorrow, I’m ready.’ And he will be. I’m not worried about Taylor. He’ll be back ready to rock and roll.”
But it’s also a comfort for Watson to know that Lee is ready to step in whenever he’s needed.
“It means a lot,” Watson said. “I’ve said to the media before, being a quarterback is a lot more than just being the guy on the field, being the front man. There are a lot of things that go into that. Just because you’re not the starter doesn’t mean you can’t be a quarterback on the team.”
Junior wide receiver Brandon Kinnie said the quarterback change wasn’t a problem. He said the Huskers are comfortable with Martinez, Lee or Cody Green at quarterback.
“It was easy because like we’ve been saying all year, we’re confident with any of those guys back there,” Kinnie said. “Any of them can come in there and play. We have confidence in all of them, so when Taylor went down the next one stepped up and it wasn’t any different.”
Lee didn’t see anything special in what he did.
“I try to just go out, keep their confidence, keep my teammates going and just try to do what I do,” he said. “Just get in there and manage the offense. Just read the reads in the run game and the pass game and just do like I’ve always done.”
A lot has been made recently of the Huskers’ play at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers have played better on the road this year than at home, where they dropped a 20-13 decision to Texas two weeks ago.
That streak came to an end against Missouri, and not a moment too soon for head coach Bo Pelini.
“People act like we’ve lost the last 10 here. We lost one game,” Pelini said. “But yeah, in a game like this, it was just fun. I tell you, the crowd was great today. The stadium was juiced up. That always helps you.”
Pelini said last week that he was looking at changing some of the team’s game-day preparations, but he didn’t go into specifics on Saturday.
“I don’t share that,” Pelini said. “We just changed up our schedule a little bit, did some things a little bit different. It was a little more similar schedule to what we do on the road. That is about it. It wasn’t anything earth shattering.”
Whatever Pelini did, it worked.
“The Texas game was very unlike us,” Lee said “I think this is us. This is just kind of how we play.”
Change in return game
The Huskers went with a two-man punt receiving duo of Niles Paul and Rex Burkhead for much of the game on Saturday.
That came after Texas pinned the Huskers deep with rugby-style punts that rolled inside the 10-yard line two weeks ago.
Nebraska special teams coach John Papuchis said he hadn’t seen Missouri use the rugby-style of punts this season, but the Huskers were ready for it.
“We weren’t going to find out after the fact, I promise you that,” Papuchis said. “Fool us once on that rugby punt. You aren’t going to fool us twice.
“But we thought it’s a good compliment. We put two guys back there and they field all the kicks and it gives us the opportunity to at least control the field position better.”
Evans fills in
Freshman corner back Ciante Evans saw his first extended action when he replaced the injured Alfonzo Dennard in the opening quarter.
Pelini said Dennard suffered a concussion when he and teammate Courtney Osborne collided while making a tackle.
Evans was ready to go, but not all that excited about it in that situation.
“I wasn’t excited,” Evans said. “I wanted him to get up and continue to play, but the coaches called my name and I had to go out there and play.”
Evans admitted that he was still nervous well into the second half of play.
“Knowing going into the second half that Alfonzo wasn’t coming back, that just seemed like it put extra pressure on me,” Evans said. “I really had to step up.”