KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The biggest mistake Joe Ganz made last season was chasing ghosts.
That's the phrase Nebraska's senior quarterback used to describe the moments when he tried to do too much in his three starts to close out last season. There were plenty of times when the chances he took paid off, as indicated by his 16 touchdowns.
However, there were also plenty of times when they didn't. The Cornhuskers were 1-2 with Ganz under center, and his seven interceptions certainly played a part in getting there.
But while it wasn't the most ideal way to introduce himself as Nebraska's next starting quarterback, those three games proved to be valuable lessons. Now heading into his first and only season as a starter, Ganz said he has learned what it takes to affectively handle the job, both on and off the field.
More importantly, he's learned to trust himself as a quarterback.
"I'm just letting the game come to me more," Ganz said Monday at the Big 12 Media Days in Kansas City. "It's a complete swing. Last year I was forcing throws when there wasn't anything there. I call it hunting for ghosts. Part of it was inexperience, and part of it was feeling like we needed to score on every play.
"This year I should be a lot more mature on the field. If I have to take a sack, I'll take the sack. It's better than forcing things. Last year I always wanted to make the big play, but I've learned that sometimes you trust that you'll be able to make it on the next play."
There's no doubt that Ganz tried his luck at times with risky passes, but to his credit, it wasn't like he had much of a choice. In the final three games under Ganz, the Huskers averaged 54.3 points per game. They also allowed 57.3.
As a result, Ganz often found himself needing to score fast and often, a definite stress on a quarterback who had played in a total of eight games in his two previous seasons at NU.
His numbers were certainly impressive – 89 for 152 passing for 1,435 yards – but Ganz has never been much of a stat guy. For him, there are only two stats that matter: wins and losses.
"I've had some success, but I'm still 1-2 as a starter," he said. "That's the only stat I look at. If we go 10-2 and I throw for 200 yards a game, I'm happy. But if I throw for 500 yards a game and we go 6-6, it doesn't mean anything."
It's been that humble demeanor that has helped Ganz win over his coaches and teammates during the last few months. Senior guard Matt Slauson praised Ganz's leadership.
"We're so confident in him that if it comes down to the end of the game and we need someone to make a play, we know he'll get it done," Slauson said. "I don't have any doubt he'll find a way to do it."
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini echoed Slauson's sentiment.
"He's a dynamic leader, somebody who plays with a tremendous amount of confidence and that toughness about him, attitude," Pelini said. "The kind of guy you want leading your offense. Being a significant core leader on your football team.
"I feel real comfortable having him as our starting quarterback and think he's set up to have a really good year."
Ganz ended his interview session with reporters with a quote that summed up his personality to perfection. When talking about his passing style, Ganz said he preferred to get outside of the pocket and throw on the run.
He said this because a quarterback is more likely to take a hit, but also can create opportunities to make big plays down the field. It's a risk he's willing to take, all in the name of earning his teammates' respect.
"To have your offensive linemen seeing you out there taking a hit, you earn their respect more than if you're sitting in the pocket all clean and pretty," Ganz said.