LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee has thrown 7 interceptions over the last two games. After the fourth thrown against Oregon, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf knew what was happening.
He saw a quarterback getting hit way too often and pressing as a result. It was a problem against Arkansas State and, at the time, also against Oregon. Several days later, the same problems reared their ugly heads once again.
The moment that ultimately set the tone for Nebraska’s 21-17 loss to Northern Illinois came in the first quarter. In fact, it came on the very first drive. After winning the toss and electing to receive, Nebraska made good work moving the ball from its own 25-yard line to the Huskies’ 10.
It was then that Lee turned to his right for a quick lateral throw to the wide receiver behind the line of scrimmage. Northern Illinois cornerback Shawun Lurry read it perfectly, though, jumping in front of the ball, intercepting it and running 87 yards for the Huskies’ first touchdown.
So, what happened? Langsdorf broke it down after the game.
“[Lee] has a a quick bubble. The corner jumps it. We’ve got a blocker for him. I just think he jumped in front of the blocker,” Langsdorf said. “I didn’t see it, obviously, on film yet, but we have to block the corner. I don’t think he saw the corner sneaking up. We’ve got an ability to hand the ball off there. The guy gambled and picked it off.”
Lee saw it the same.
“That was tough,” Lee said on Saturday. “They just had a perfect defense, I took a gamble and they blitzed the corner who jumped that bubble throw and took it to the house. That was a tough way to start a game, but you’ve got to think that we are able to drive the ball and put it behind us.”
However, the interceptions weren’t Lee’s only concern against Northern Illinois. As Langsdorf noted over the week, the protection of the quarterback has to be better. It was anything but against the Huskies.
Northern Illinois ended the day with 3 sacks for 24 yards. Each hit rattled Lee a little more. Langsdorf wasn’t concerned about Lee feeling uncomfortable in the pocket but had an idea why he reacted the way he did.
“I think he would be OK if he wasn’t getting hit so much,” Langsdorf said. “We can help him. We can get quicker throws off, you know. I think you get into that game and they start jumping stuff and you want to push it down the field a little, but our protection at times struggled, so that can definitely be a two-way street. You always want the quarterback to play with as much confidence and I think that getting hit and throwing a pick-6 hurts you a little bit.
“We’ve got to protect better and put him in a better situation to make plays.”
For the offensive line, Langsdorf felt the unit didn’t handle the movement well, or the stunting and slanting. When the coaches gave one side of the line more help, they’d then struggle on the other. It went back and forth nearly all game.
Beyond that, Langsdorf also felt the offensive line didn’t do a solid enough job providing time for Lee to get rid of the ball. He plans to continue having the tight ends and running backs help and chip to alleviate some of the pains on the line.
Going forward, Langsdorf knows he has to keep putting Lee in the best position he can. That will include giving him plays that he likes and is comfortable executing.
Ultimately, it’s about building Lee’s confidence back up after being hit as many times and throwing the interceptions that he has.
“When he gets hit or takes a beating like he has, he’s had some hits and pick-6s off of it — kind of hit while he’s throwing — those can rattle you a little bit,” Langsdorf said. “You have to continue to give him plays that he’s comfortable that he can play quickly and get the ball out of his hands and not take the hits.”