|COLLEGE FOOTBALL PACKAGE: Nebraska's Keller downplays redemption as factor against USC|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 12 September 2007 10:26|
Keller has been hesitant to reminisce about his near-miss against the Trojans when he was at Arizona State. The emphasis, he said, should be on what lies ahead, not what happened two seasons ago.
But he does acknowledge one of the biggest steps in his maturation as a quarterback came on Oct. 1, 2005, when he led the Sun Devils to a big lead only to see the Trojans come back to win after he came undone in the second half.
Keller's second chance comes Saturday when top-ranked USC visits Lincoln.
Keller has lived in Nebraska 13 months - long enough to know how important the next game is to fans in the land of Big Red.
USC is the first No. 1 team to come to Lincoln since 1978. Beating the Trojans would not only be the Huskers' most significant victory under fourth-year coach Bill Callahan, but their biggest win since Tom Osborne was winning national titles. It's a chance for the Huskers, whose No. 14 ranking is their highest since 2003, to re-establish themselves among the college football's elite programs.
Keller said this game is not about him.
``No, I don't look at it as a week of redemption at all,'' Keller said. ``I owe it to my team, my coaching staff and everybody to prepare for this game like I've never prepared for a game before.
``I can't look at anything like, 'Hey, I played them. I remember this guy, and I know you very well, or, 'I played against you a couple times.' I've got to be a good quarterback this week.''
Keller was very good for a half against USC on a sun-splashed afternoon in Tempe, Ariz., two years ago, leading the Sun Devils to a 21-3 lead.
But he was intercepted four times in the second half, and USC rallied for a 38-28 win.
A hard lesson.
``We were winning 21-3, and I might have thought of myself as somewhat bulletproof,'' he said. ``You can't take unnecessary chances against that defense, because they are too fast and too good.''
Keller, who passed for 347 yards, said he panicked as the Trojans crept back into the game.
``You start thinking to yourself, 'I've got to put this on my shoulders and go get this done.' If you do that and become too overaggressive and overzealous, then you can make mistakes.''
USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who led the Trojans with seven tackles and was in on two sacks of Keller, said the quarterback earned his respect that day.
``He's the same player, just a different uniform,'' Jackson said. ``They ask him to do different things than he did at ASU. He's still the same Sam Keller.''
Keller appeared in only two more games for the Sun Devils. A thumb injury ended his season. He transferred to Nebraska after losing the starting job to Rudy Carpenter in 2006.
``He was in the process of having a great season and did a great job and became a big-time quarterback there,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said, ``and then Nebraska gets the benefit of all that experience. It's amazing they've been able to transition him. He fits in so well, and he looks like he's been there his whole career.''
Keller has been up and down in his first two games with the Huskers (2-0). He's completed 57.6 percent of his passes, but he has been intercepted three times and thrown for just two touchdowns. A rash of dropped passes has hurt Keller's numbers. But he's also had a tendency to overthrow receivers on intermediate routes.
Keller was impressive leading a 2-minute drill for a touchdown at the end of the first half at Wake Forest last week, but he was otherwise unspectacular in the 20-17 win.
``It's just the process of getting better each week and getting better throughout the game,'' Keller said. ``This one, I'll be a lot more prepared. My preparation has been huge this week. I felt very comfortable in the Wake Forest game, but their defense is pretty tough. You'd like to clean up the turnovers and little things like that, which I will.''
Callahan said he expects Keller to get better.
``I told Sam the only one you have to please is me. Don't worry about anyone else,'' Callahan said. ``As long as you do what we're asking you to do, you really have no problem here.''
Of course, any blemishes in his first two games will be covered if Keller can spark an upset Saturday.
Keller said it's going to take everyone, not just him, to do it. That's where his experience against the Trojans applies. He said he plans to have a talk with his offensive teammates about how to stare down the giant.
``The important thing is to be prepared mentally for what you're going to see,'' he said. ``You're going to see the fastest team you've played against. We have to be ready for that intensity and speed of the game. It's going to be very fast, very intense. The crowd is going to be electric. We have to make sure we settle into the game and not make mistakes.''