LINCOLN, Neb. — The motto for the quarterback position in Lincoln this spring comes from somewhere offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf can’t quite remember.
But both he and redshirt junior Tanner Lee recited it after practice on Thursday: “It’s not how many good plays you make, it’s how many bad plays you don’t.”
The quarterback battle between Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien is the main focus of spring practice this year. Even with new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco installing his 3-4 defense, the starting quarterback position holds a certain level of gravity, especially at Nebraska.
So … how will Langsdorf decide on a starter?
A system of data, documenting and observation.
Every single pass during practice is recorded on cameras within the Hawks Championship Center, then tracked and ultimately analyzed by Langsdorf after practice in the film room. After he tracks the passes, he writes up the completion percentage and other grades for each quarterback, prints the results and hands them out to every quarterback. So everyone knows where everyone stands at all times.
“I’m pretty blunt and honest with them about where they’re at,” Langsdorf said. “I grade them on every play and I give the grade sheets to everybody in the quarterback group so everyone sees the comments and the grade — and good and bad.”
The process is uber-transparent, and incredibly honest. That way, Langsdorf said, when he makes a decision, he can have data to back it up.
“I can say, ‘This is why: Your completion percentage is this and your run checks are here and your footwork is this,'” Langsdorf said. “It’s very clear how they’re doing.”
So far, the competition is good, he says, adding that both Lee and O’Brien have been impressive. And O’Brien, though two years younger than Lee, is grading the same on all categories.
He’s got a good arm, he can move around in the pocket and can make some great throws, Langsdorf said.
“He just threw one a couple minutes ago that was a line drive, a beautiful ball,” Langsdorf said. “I’m impressed with his ability to throw the ball. And he’s smart, he’s gotten us into some good protections and some better ones that we were originally in today, too.”
O’Brien said Thursday he thinks his advantage is going through the routine of a season, as he did last season while redshirting — even travelling with the team. Lee, meanwhile, played on the scout team and did not travel while sitting out a season following his transfer from Tulane.
But Lee he has the in-game experience card, Langsdorf said. And it shows.
“He gets rid of the ball quickly,” Langsdorf said. “I think he’s been really good about checking the ball down, getting the ball to the backs when things are breaking down downfield. He’s not standing back there taking sacks, he’s getting the ball out of his hands, and that’ll be big for us.”
Lee touted his experience on Thursday during his media availability, saying you can’t “teach experience” and that he learned early on at Tulane that actually playing is what he needed more than anything. And now, he said, he has done it.
But experience alone won’t be the deciding factor for Langsdorf.
The deciding factor will ultimately be accuracy — how often Lee and O’Brien complete passes to open receivers. Be it a long bomb or a check down, whoever makes the most good passes, that’s who will get the job.
So far, Langsdorf said, the two quarterbacks have traded off good days. O’Brien looked better on Thursday. Lee looked better the practice before that.
“We haven’t announced a starter, we’re repping it like we haven’t announced a starter, and we’re evened up,” Langsdorf said. “We have a lot of time before we have to make a decision and I’m hoping one of them will rise up and break away.”
Until then, Langsdorf will be tracking every throw, marking every play — good or bad — until one of them comes out on top.