LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh knew Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith would be trouble. As the Huskers prepared for the Huskies, they saw what ‘No. 15′ — as the coaches called him — was capable of.
Despite knowing that, Smith still managed to wreak more havoc than expected against Nebraska’s offensive line, tight ends and running backs. And after film review, Langsdorf knows it’s not all on quarterback Tanner Lee. It’s an issue across the board.
“Sometimes it’s been a 1-on-1 matchup that we lost, sometimes it’s been not the correct help or not a good-enough help by an adjacent lineman or a tight end or a back,” Langsdorf said after practice Monday. “We’ve had a lot of emphasis on chipping and making sure that 15 last week wasn’t going to get to us, and he did a good job. He ran inside on a tackle and our tight end didn’t help. That was a sack-interception.”
Yes, Smith did a good job. He alone boasted 2 out of the Huskies’ 3 sacks of Lee. He also accounted for 4 of Northern Illinois’ 9 tackles for a loss.
And beyond just Smith, the Huskies’ defensive line — which it’s worth noting was about 40 pounds lighter per man than Nebraska’s offensive line — battled tirelessly until the end. The Huskies added 7 quarterback hurries on Lee in the 21-17 victory in Lincoln, as well.
“That was a bad week,” Cavanaugh said on Monday. “We were bad.”
So, what now? What do the Huskers have to do before Rutgers gets to town on Saturday? There are a few things that need to be addressed, but the big one for Cavanaugh is communication — or the current lack thereof.
“We’ve got to echo calls. We’ve got to communicate better,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s all the way down the line. It’s not just one call. What’s the call? It’s got to be echoed and we have to do a way better job at that.”
That was Cavanaugh’s major emphasis to the team on Monday. He called the communication a “huge” aspect of correcting the line’s overall issues.
And right now, the line isn’t talking. That’s a problem.
It’s not all, though.
“We’ve just got to keep working on our technique and our fundamentals,” Cavanaugh said. “When we got beat, it was flat out bad technique. Not setting correcting, leaning, you’re head’s down, you’re up on your toes. You can’t move your feet if you’re like that. We have to become more detailed and we’ll keep working on all those things.”
That’s why Langsdorf isn’t willing to put all the blame on Lee. Did he makes some mistakes on Saturday? Absolutely, but the offensive coordinator saw his quarterback hit the ground one too many times.
In fact, Langsdorf has been saying this for weeks. After the loss to Oregon, Langsdorf said something similar to what he said after Northern Illinois.
“He got hit too many times, which affects everybody,” Langsdorf said in Eugene, Ore. “We’ve got to clean up that part of it.”
One week later, that didn’t happen.
And there are going to be more players like ‘No. 15’ that Nebraska will face. The clock is ticking for the Huskers to figure out their problems on the offensive line and how to protect the quarterback.
If not, it’s going to be the same song and dance next weekend. But Cavanaugh feels strongly that his group will improve and he saw it in the attitude on Monday.
“I think they’re real hungry. We’re all embarrassed,” Cavanaugh said. “I still love that group. We’re going to work hard to try to get better and better.”