It would be an understatement to say the Huskers struggled on third down Saturday against Oregon.
The Nebraska offense converted two of its first three third downs and then failed to convert the last 11, all coming after the first quarter.
“We’ve got to stay on the field,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “The third down was such a critical statistic for us in our last game, we were really bad.”
Monday morning, Langsdorf and the rest of the coaching staff sat down with the players in the film room to watch the 42-35 loss over again and try to break it down. After, Langsdorf said the team took a break and then met back up with fresh attitude. No doubt, something that was discussed during the film session was the third-down deficiencies and the role that played on the up-and-down nature of the Nebraska offense.
“When we’re good, we’re really good,” Langsdorf said. “We have our moments when there’s a false start or a busted assignment or something goes bad and it kind of snowballs and until we come out of the freefall, we’re just really up and down.”
The Huskers scored on back-to-back possessions to end the first quarter and begin the second quarter, and then again on back-to-back drives early in the third, but sandwiched in between were four drives that ended with three three-and-outs and an interception.
It was one of four on the day for quarterback Tanner Lee.
“I thought he missed some throws, and we talked about some of those,” Langsdorf said. “I thought he was a little high on some stuff. He was probably pressing, especially trying to get back in it and maybe trying to put a little too much on his shoulders.”
Langsdorf was able to diagnose each of the four turnovers with Lee as well. None of them were spectacular plays made by the Ducks defense, meaning all of them are correctable mistakes. The first was a tipped ball “that probably should have been caught” by wideout Stanley Morgan Jr. The second was just a misread on the part of Lee. The third “wasn’t timed very well” with Morgan coming out of his break as well as he should have and Lee missing late and away. On the final interception, Lee was hit on the throw.
“I think he had a tough game and I think he was hard on himself about it, which is a good sign for him and our team, but I think he’ll bounce back,” Langsdorf said.
But both coordinator and quarterback were talking through everything on the phones. “He’s an excellent communicator that way,” Langsdorf said, and he was pleased with how Lee came back each time with poise and just kept firing.
“All of it is exactly what you’re looking for in the position,” he said.
They just need to work on keeping Lee upright.
“Some good, some bad,” Langsdorf said when asked about the protection so far through two games. “It was inconsistent and I just think we’re getting hit too many times. We’ve got get that solved, we’ve got to keep him upright and healthy.”
Other news and notes
>> Despite head coach Mike Riley listing starting tailback Tre Bryant as day-to-day Monday morning, running backs coach Reggie Davis said after practice that Bryant was good to go.
“All his tests came back negative. He’s straight. He’s ready to go,” he said.
Langsdorf has been pleased with how Bryant has looked in the run game to begin the season.
“I think we got out of our plan a little bit with how the game went but you look at some of the run averages that we’ve had and some of our concepts, it’s been really good,” he said.
But even if Bryant can’t go against Northern Illinois on Saturday, Langsdorf doesn’t expect a drop-off in production and Davis expressed confidence in junior Mikale Wilbon’s ability to step in and be the guy.
“If he has to, you know what I mean?” Davis said. “That’s something you deal with if it happens. But I know he’s ready to do it. The guy’s worked hard. He’s one of the strongest guys in our room.”
>> Wide receiver coach Keith Williams said he doesn’t teach his room any specific techniques for blocking on the outside, or run any drills to work on blocking, but he does keep it real.
“The thing is, that guy is your teammate,” Williams tells his receivers. “Might be your roommate, you might ride with him to school. I played with Marshall Faulk. He’s one of my best friends, he was in my wedding, so when he has the ball, that’s one of my best friends, I’m not gonna let their guy hit my guy.
“And at the end of the day as a wideout you need that running back to pick up a blitz so you can catch that big post route.”
>> Both offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh and Langsdorf seemed pleased with the play of freshman Matt Farniok in his first start at right tackle Saturday. Farniok came in for the injured David Knevel and played a clean game.
“[No penalties] was really big,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s a loud environment obviously, and he handled it well.”
Langsdorf said it was a tough environment to play in for a debut, and even though there were a few times Farniok was beat by more experienced defensive linemen early, he appeared to settle in as the game went on.
>> Even though Farniok’s play was encouraging, the overall protection from the line was not. Cavanaugh joined Riley from earlier Monday morning and Langsdorf in the evening in expressing a desire for better, more consistent line play moving forward.
>> Langsdorf offered some insight on Nebraska’s next opponent too, Northern Illinois.
“I think they’re like Arkansas State in the sense that they’re not as big as some of the defenses we’ll face,” he said. “They can run, they hit, they’re really aggressive, they run to the ball very well and their linebacking corps is very strong.
“They’ve got an excellent D-end in [Sutton Smith], like the Arkansas State guy, who’s really a great pass rusher, really active and stands up on the edge and he’s disruptive. He’ll be a key guy. They’re going to be a good defense, a different look.”