LINCOLN, Neb. — Sam Keller likes to call the few hours he spends relaxing “Sam Time.”
On the football field, “Sam Time” takes on a much different meaning.
It’s been “Sam Time” all the time for Nebraska, with the quarterback carrying the workload as the defense and running game struggle.
“I think Coach (Bill) Callahan understands that his quarterback will do that if he needs him to,” Keller said. “I will go out and take that role and make it happen for this team and this program.”
The fifth-year senior delivered last week against Ball State, bringing the Cornhuskers back from deficits four times in a 41-40 win against the 23-point underdog Cardinals. He threw for a school-record 438 yards, his last pass going 11 yards to Maurice Purify for the winning touchdown.
Keller, who had 389 yards on a school-record 36 completions in the 49-31 loss to Southern California the week before, is the first Nebraska quarterback to pass for more than 300 in consecutive games.
The 25th-ranked Huskers (3-1) go into Saturday’s Big 12 opener against Iowa State (1-3) as the No. 12 passing team in the nation, with Keller averaging 319.5 yards per game.
Keller has completed 65.6 percent of his passes and thrown for seven touchdowns. A conference-high six interceptions has chinked his overall passer rating, which is 141.1.
“He does not accept being good,” Purify said. “He wants to be great and he wants to get better and better every week. So I expect something bigger this week than last week.”
When Keller transferred from Arizona State last fall, he was hailed as an upgrade from last season’s starter, Zac Taylor, who was the Big 12’s offensive player of the year.
Keller dutifully performed his scout team duties and laid low. He knew his time would come.
“You do not have the right to take leadership of a team until you have actually gone in and done something to back it up,” Keller said. “Now that I have a few games under my belt, I can assert myself where I’m needed. But there are enough leaders on the team where I am not the only one. There are a lot of guys. I only do it when it is necessary.”
Nebraska may need Keller’s arm a lot more if the running game goes nowhere. After rushing for 413 yards against overmatched Nevada, the Huskers have averaged 87 yards the past three games.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Texas Tech coach Mike Leach doesn’t think switching defensive coordinators in the middle of the season is a risky move.
“It’s all the same faces we’ve had,” he said.
Except one. Lyle Setencich stepped aside Sunday, citing personal reasons in a move that came a day after the team’s 49-45 loss to Oklahoma State. Ruffin McNeill will fill in as interim defensive coordinator.
“Players reflect the mentality of their coach. I think we needed a change in mentality,” said Leach, whose defense gave up 610 yards of total offense against the Cowboys.
The Red Raiders’ high-powered offense had 718 yards as quarterback Graham Harrell threw for a career-best 646 yards. Harrell was named the conference’s offensive player of the week Monday.
Although the Red Raiders are known for their offense, Leach expects the defense to hold up its end.
“I think it’s a complete cop-out anytime people say if you’re good on one side you can’t be on the other,” Leach said.
TWELFTH MAN: Any chance of playing by the Canadian Football League rules?
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said he may call up Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and ask the coach for a 12th player on defense.
“They’re tremendously gifted,” Hawkins said. “We haven’t played anyone like Oklahoma. That’s a different animal.”
NO OWNERSHIP: Kansas State linebacker Ian Campbell laughed when it was suggested the Wildcats own Texas after their upset of the Longhorns last season.
“I think those ownerships are up for year leases, because you’ve got to play everybody every year,” he said. “So I don’t think you can just say that you own anybody.”
Campbell played a key role a year ago, recovering two second-half fumbles that were turned into touchdowns. That victory gave Kansas State a 3-2 record against Texas since Big 12 Conference play began in 1996, giving the Wildcats the highest winning percentage of any conference school against the Big 12 South powerhouse. Oklahoma is the only other team with a winning record at 6-5.
The 2006 loss ended Texas’ 21-game conference winning streak and was its first regular-season loss to a Big 12 North school in seven years.
Campbell said he’s focused on this year.
“Last year was last year, and it’s over with,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll play with plenty of pride. If they feel like we took away their national championship last year, they’re going to be playing with plenty of pride on Saturday.”
Kansas State (2-1) has had two full weeks to prepare for Texas (4-0). After routing Missouri State 61-10 on Sept. 14, the Wildcats had a bye week before beginning the conference slate.
The week off may have helped an injury-depleted secondary for Kansas State. Cornerbacks Bryan Baldwin and Ray Cheatham are both healthy again after sitting out the Missouri State game.
QUICK HITS: Baylor safety Jordan Lake was the conference’s defensive player of the week after forcing two fumbles and picking off two passes against Buffalo. Missouri kick returner Jeremy Maclin earned the conference’s special teams player of the week honor with 163 return yards in the Tigers’ win over Illinois State.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino is trying to find ways to get backup QB Kerry Meier on the field. He lined him up at receiver on Saturday. Texas A&M is looking to rebound from a loss to Miami against Baylor. The loss dropped the Aggies out of the Top 25. Iowa State will unveil a new football helmet and drawing of home and road uniforms on Wednesday. The changes will be implemented in 2008-09.