STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee didn’t have to play against Penn State on Saturday. He had spent the week in concussion protocol after suffering an “impact migraine” against Minnesota the previous Saturday. No one would have faulted Lee for sitting out, but that’s not how the quarterback operates.
“This is a dream come true to play here in Happy Valley with 100,000 fans,” Lee said following Nebraska’s 56-44 defeat to Penn State. “It would have hurt to miss this game. It really would have.”
Lee had to first be cleared to play, of course. Coach Mike Riley confirmed he had been on Thursday, but his game time status was still unknown. By Friday, Lee had been given the A-OK to start against Penn State.
“It was one of those things where every day he passes another test,” Riley said. “Any day he could have had a setback and you could say, ‘”OK, he’s out,’ but when you get to Friday, I’ve never heard of a guy having a setback on that day. So, nothing yesterday was really surprising.”
And Riley said he did feel good about Lee playing. While Thursday was a bit of a question mark for Lee, Friday provided much-needed clarity. And once the medical staff officially cleared Lee, it was never a question whether Lee would start.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Lee and his teammates, especially considering Nebraska ended up on the losing end of the high-scoring affair. However, Lee ended the day 25 of 41 for 399 yards and 3 touchdowns. While he was sacked 4 times, he never threw an interception.
And the key for Lee and Nebraska’s offense came in the second half. While the Huskers could have easily given up, Lee helped lead Nebraska to an additional 34 points in the final 30 minutes alone. He also threw for an impressive 188 yards in the fourth quarter. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but Lee still performed great overall.
“I’m proud of my team,” Lee said. “The guys continued to make plays down the stretch and we just wanted to keep playing because we enjoy playing together. That’s what the offense was talking about on the sidelines. Just keeping going because that’s why we’re here.”
As Lee prepares for his final game of his junior season, he knows there will be some talk out there about his future. He’s a fifth-year junior with only 6 credits needed to graduate in the spring. At that point, he could opt to enroll in graduate school and come back for his senior season or declare for the NFL draft.
Riley’s open to whatever Lee chooses. He said the two haven’t talked about it yet, but Riley will be there if Lee needs advice.
“I’ll support whatever he would like to do,” Riley said. “Is he ready? Well, he has all the tangible things. It would probably be great if he would play another year of college football.”
Maybe, Lee will return for another year, or maybe he won’t. Whatever he chooses to do, he’s keeping it close to the vest for now. Understandably so, especially since it was a dream to simply be back on the field against Penn State.
And don’t bother pushing Lee for any insider information now. Win or lose, playing for Nebraska has been a dream come true and there’s still one more chance out there for him and his teammates in 2017.
“I’m just extremely focused on Iowa,” Lee said. “That’s a game we want to come out and play well, so I’ll worry about everything after that.”