Published Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 5:25 pm
football
Husker lineman Zach Sterup stepped up in tough situation, Garrison says
Michigan State at Nebraska
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
TV: ABC
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

LINCOLN — John Garrison probably would have picked a better time and place for sophomore Zach Sterup, considering Nebraska was facing second-and-12 from its own 1-yard line.

Then again, the way this season has gone for the Husker offensive line, the NU assistant coach didn't even flinch.

Garrison ran down the sideline, found Sterup and threw him to the Wolverines before a crowd of 112,204 at Michigan Stadium.

“I'm not going to lie: The first few plays I was a little nervous,” Sterup said. “We were backed up and it was a hard situation. But then after the first few snaps, I settled in and just played football.”

Sterup finished the 17-13 win over Michigan at right tackle after fifth-year senior Jeremiah Sirles went down with about three minutes left in the first half. Garrison said he was proud of Sterup —not only for the way he played, but also because he stayed calm and responded to the challenge.

There was a chance he was going to play anyway — with Andrew Rodriguez moving to guard and leaving NU with Sirles and Brent Qvale at tackle — but Garrison would have done it on his terms.

“There's been a lot of games and situations this year where I keep telling him, 'Hey, stay ready. Be ready to go,' ” Garrison said. “I said the exact same thing to him this game, and I'm sure he probably looked at me and kind of rolled his eyes. At halftime I looked at him and I kind of told him, 'Sterup, I told you that you were going to play in this game.' We kind of laughed about that.”

What isn't funny is that Nebraska has now lost a starting offensive lineman in three of its last four games, all to knee injuries. Right guard Spencer Long is done for the season, while left guard Jake Cotton and Sirles are considered week-to-week.

If Garrison chooses to keep Rodriguez at right guard, Sterup would be in line to make his first career start Saturday against Michigan State and the nation's top-ranked defense.

“I'm excited to see him play,” Garrison said.

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Sterup said his heart was thumping as he ran from the sideline to the Husker huddle gathering in the end zone. That NU series ended in a punt, and the offense mostly struggled until putting together its game-winning 14-play, 75-yard drive late in the game.

But Qvale agreed that Sterup, a 6-foot-8, 315-pounder from Hastings, Neb., held up well under difficult circumstances.

“He came in and did a good job,” Qvale said. “I think he was a little nervous. That's a tough situation to be put in.

“It only takes one or two good hits and then you're pretty well focused in and the nerves are gone. He played well in the second half.”

Garrison called it “just another step” for Sterup. He thought Sterup was ready to play entering the season, but had three experienced tackles in front of him.

That was before the dominoes started to fall.

“I always try and prepare just like anything could happen,” Sterup said. “I knew this last week that there was a possibility (to play) because we moved A-Rod to guard, and so if anybody did get hurt that I'd probably be the first one in.”

Garrison said he hasn't necessarily seen a change in Sterup's confidence or demeanor this week now that he's seen playing time. Just a back-to-business attitude.

“He's just the same old Sterup. He's just the same cat,” Garrison said. “Maybe a little excitement, a little smile, ready to go. It's just proof to him that his hard work has paid off.

“He's ready to go. He's ready to get out there and compete, and this is going to be a great test for him.”

* * *

>> Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 12:

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust

rich.kaipust@owh.com    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

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