December 31, 2009

Bowl notebook: Lee to have surgery on elbow

SAN DIEGO - Junior quarterback Lee announced after Nebraska's 33-0 win over Arizona in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night that he will undergo surgery on his flexor tendon in his throwing arm on Jan. 6 while he's back in San Francisco.

Lee said the injury happened when he hurt his wrist in the Arkansas State game back on Sept. 12, but he chose to keep it quiet and play through it each week.

"I injured my wrist in the Arkansas State game and I guess from favoring it I have a fairly extensive tear in my flexor tendon that has just been something I had to play with and function with," Lee said. "It was just a decent amount of pain in my elbow when I throw. I am going to get that taken care of next week."

Lee said the recovery time on the injury is 10 to 12 weeks, which should bring him back in time to participate in spring practice this March.

When the injury first happened, Lee said that's when rumors started to fly around that he broke his arm, but he joked that an injury he suffered on his non-throwing thumb served as a nice decoy the week of the Virginia Tech game to cover up his bad wrist.

Lee said everybody felt like it was best not to disclose the injury until after the season was over.

"It's football and over the course of the season you are going to get hurt and things are going to happen," Lee said. "I didn't want it to be an excuse or distract what we are trying to accomplish as a team. You know our media and our fans and that would've been a wildfire if it came out during the season. Now you know."

Because of his ability to play through pain as well as a heavy blanket of criticism, Watson had nothing but praise for his quarterback following his performance on Wednesday.

"I think Zac played really well," Watson said. "Zac's been injured most of the year. He's had an ankle, he's had elbow on his throwing elbow. Those aren't excuses. We never said anything because they weren't going to be excuses. That's just the character that Zac had. He's had to fight through a lot. He's had to take a lot of shots. I was really proud and happy for him tonight because he really put it out there."

- Sean Callahan

Watson, offense end season with a bang

As he answered post-game interview questions outside of Nebraska's locker room on Wednesday, Watson had a look a pure vindication on his face.

After enduring some of the harshest criticism of his career during the Huskers' recent offensive slump to end the regular season an on into the Big 12 Championship, Watson and his players responded with one of their best performances of the year on the national stage of the Holiday Bowl.

Rather than try to sum up Watson's emotions while reflecting on how the past season played out, it would be more appropriate just to let Watson say it himself.

"We've had to battle and fight our way through the season," Watson said. "Back midway through the season after the Iowa State game, we knew we had to win a certain way due to injuries, due to youth, and we took that course. I'll be honest with you - I knew I was going to take some shots, because everybody's into stats. But it wasn't what was best for the 135 players, nor the staff. It was about finding a way to win five games at that point. We just locked arms, threw the pieces on the table and figured out a way.

"I know what we believe in. I know what we have. I know what we're capable of doing. I know the creativity in our room. I'll tell you, I work for the best guy in the world. He is 120,000 percent behind us, and he's always made us feel that and he's always made sure that we knew that. It made it bearable, because it's hard. I've told you guys many times, it's a hard thing to do. It took a certain amount of courage for us to do that as a staff, but it was what was best for our kids. It gave us a chance to win a championship.

"You learn a lot. I've learned a ton this year. A ton. You never stop learning. If anything, I'm humbled by it. If anything, I'm excited and eager to get back to work next year, because I think we have a lot of good football players coming back. It will be exciting."

- Robin Washut

Wildcat offense may be here to stay

Nebraska had kept its Wildcat formation in its back pocket all season, and Wednesday night was the perfect time to break it out.

Because of tendencies NU's offensive coaching staff had seen from watching tape on Arizona's defense, they felt they could use the Wildcat effectively to keep UA's aggressive defense off-balance.

Watson said the Wildcats liked to bring extra defenders up towards the line of scrimmage in run support, so by using two running backs in the backfield with two tight ends and the quarterback split out wide as a decoy, he said the Huskers were able to neutralize Arizona's pressure and run right at it.

Running backs coach Tim Beck said freshman running back Rex Burkhead's experience with the offense and his natural playmaking ability made him the perfect candidate to lead the way in the Wildcat debut.

"You could run it with some other guys, but he is such an instinctive football player," Beck said. "You could make adjustments with him during the game and he reacts to it."

Beck said the Huskers came in with the game plan to utilize the Wildcat along with a heavy dose of zone read options to keep Arizona guessing. He said the only team to really run that style of offense against UA was Oregon, which put up 44 points in an overtime win earlier this season.

"That was our plan coming in," Beck said. "We felt that was what we needed to do. I don't know if it's the Pac-10, but not a lot of teams ran it against them. They didn't see a lot of it this year."

- Robin Washut

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