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Report Card: Northern Illinois Huskies 21, Huskers 17

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NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Nebraska
Assume the position.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the spring and summer, I hedged my expectations about Nebraska based on Tanner Lee. Would he be the guy that NFL scouts had been raving about all summer long? Or would he be the Tulane washout that was so indistinguishable from redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien that NU’s Billy Devaney called them “Patrick Lee and Tanner O’Brien” in the spring? Quite a few commenters here ridiculed my concerns over the summer.

I don’t think they’re laughing anymore.

When Northern Illinois’ Shawun Lurry picked off Lee’s fourth pass of the game, I grabbed my phone and tweeted “Tulane Tanner” as Lurry crossed the goal line. Someone pointed out that this wasn’t really Lee’s fault, and when I saw more replays, I saw why. Lurry jumped the route as the ball left Lee’s hand; this wasn’t on Lee as much as on offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, whose formations, personnel and tendencies telegraphed the playcalls.

So maybe we should forgive Lee that one. Even so, he’s still responsible for the others he threw, plus the near interceptions that the Huskies dropped. Lee still leads the nation in interceptions with seven, and even if you throw a couple out, he’d still be in the bottom ten nationally. Which takes me back to my original concern about Lee. Turns out he’s the same quarterback he was at Tulane. It’s even statistically equivalent:

Tanner Lee’s 2015 passing efficiency rating at Tulane: 109.8
Tanner Lee’s 2017 passing efficiency rating at Nebraska: 109.8

And for those of you who couldn’t wait to get rid of dual-threat quarterbacks at Nebraska in favor of pro-style passers, here are some historical numbers in comparison:

Tommy Armstrong’s passing efficiency ratings: 124.3, 133.0, 128.6, 123.9
Taylor Martinez’s passing efficiency ratings: 138.8, 126.5, 141.6, 140.0

While Lee’s production is statistically awful, he doesn’t shoulder all of the blame for Nebraska’s offensive offense. A huge factor in Lee’s struggles is the lack of protection from the offensive line. Nebraska is trying to help Lee out with additional tight ends, but the result of that is fewer receivers to find downfield. And when Lee is pressured, he makes bad decisions and throws erratically.

Frankly, until the offensive line improves, I’m not sure how benching Lee for a redshirt freshman is going to help. I think it wouldn’t hurt to get Patrick O’Brien some snaps this next week no matter what happens, because if Lee continues to get hit like this, it’s only a matter of time before he gets hurt. But an all-out benching? I don’t see how that would help.

With that, it’s on to the report card, and as always, your comments are welcome.

QB: We’ve labored over Tanner Lee quite a bit, but I want to note one more point. In August, Mike Riley warned that bad things would happen if Nebraska tried to throw 40 passes a game this season. In Nebraska’s two losses, Lee has thrown 41 and 47 passes. Bad things are happening; it’s time for Riley and Langsdorf to take some of the load off of Lee. My initial thought was to give Lee an “F”, but after mulling it over, I’m stopping just short. Grade: D-

I-Back: Mikale Wilbon’s 24 carries for 90 yards against Northern Illinois looked rather pedestrian at first glance. But watch him closer:

At least 6 defenders got a hand on Wilbon, who broke five tackles on the run. Two of those were behind the line of scrimmage, which seemed to be an occurrence on nearly every carry. By the end of the day, his jersey showed all of the abuse he took; the numbers were worn thin and it was stretched out of position. He’s been maligned (and rightfully so) for his pass blocking in past games, but he was pretty good this week. Devine Ozigbo emerged from the missing list with a nice eight yard gain where he pushed the pack about five yards down field. I’m dropping the grade down slightly for Wilbon’s fumbled handoff. Grade: B

WR: De’Mornay Pierson-El became Nebraska’s third 100 yard receiver of the season with a solid performance, but the catch of the day was Stanley Morgan’s shoetop snag with his fingertips. But the flip side is with the tight ends; I personally like Tyler Hoppes hands but the blocking from all of the tight ends leaves a lot to be desired. A lot. Grade: B

Offensive Line: This. Was. A. Disaster. Freshman right tackle Matt Farniok got spun around and around by NIU defensive end Sutton Smith who had four tackles for loss. But it wasn’t just him; look at that Wilbon run again and see how bad the blocking was up front. Frankly, there’s good cause to fire offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh immediately. Grade: Not an “F”, but a ZERO.

Defensive Line: For as bad as Nebraska’s offensive line was, the defensive line was really good most of the day. Defensive ends Carlos Davis and Freedom Akinoladun had been pretty quite the first couple of weeks, but were pretty solid this week. Khalil Davis also added two tackles for loss. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Luke Gifford led the Huskers with eight tackles again, while Chris Weber added four. Decent performance out there. Grade: B

Secondary: I really wanted to give an “A” here, but the fourth quarter stops me short. Antonio Reed played really well in relief of Joshua Kalu; he and Aaron Williams each had five tackles. Cornerback Lamar Jackson struggled, to put it nicely. Grade: B

Overall: F The defense played an “A” game for three quarters. But the struggles by the offensive line and Tanner Lee scuttled that effort. This is the type of loss that gets coaches fired because it’s simply unacceptable.

Poll

Grade the Huskers for their performance against Northern Illinois

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A Diaco’s defense was outstanding.
    (26 votes)
  • 2%
    B The defense was really good until late.
    (46 votes)
  • 8%
    C Good defense, bad offense
    (136 votes)
  • 10%
    D Disappointed once again this week in the offense.
    (167 votes)
  • 35%
    F Too many failures, and it’s starting to look like firings are coming.
    (580 votes)
  • 40%
    0 Zero tolerance left. Performances like this by the offense are not acceptable.
    (663 votes)
1618 votes total Vote Now

Elsewhere in College Football

Clemson: A The defending national champions making a statement to repeat.

Southern Cal: C Tanner Lee NFL fans take heart; Sam Darnold has thrown six interceptions this season. The difference? He’s completing 67% of his passes, not under 53%.

Auburn: D You can get away with five turnovers against a 1-AA opponent that restarted the football program five years ago. You won’t the rest of the season.

Tennessee: C- A lot of people are criticizing the Vols for giving up a touchdown on the final play of the game. But with nine seconds left at the snap, it wasn’t really a Hail Mary situation. Still, letting a receiver beat you deep in the closing seconds is a really horrible thing to do.

Purdue: A+ Shawn Eichorst, take note of proper form in hiring.