Photo by Aaron Babcock
Nebraska Football

Tanner Lee's Strengths Shine, Future Looms in Loss to Penn State

November 19, 2017
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Tanner Lee was good Saturday. Really good. The transfer quarterback missed the first two days of practice last week while going through the concussion protocol, but when Nebraska needed something, anything, to go right against the 10th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, Lee stepped up.

Lee suffered through a sluggish start in the team’s 56-44 loss, same as the rest of his Husker teammates, and finished the first half just 7-of-19 for 72 yards, including a second quarter in which he threw it eight times and missed eight times. Most of the misses where in the dirt at his receivers’ feet or the result of pressure from the Penn State front line. Maybe it was lingering ill-effects of a concussion he had suffered one week earlier against Minnesota. Head coach Mike Riley said he wasn’t concerned about Lee’s health, though, after the game.

“It was one of those things where every day, [he] passes another test,” Riley said. “Nothing [Friday] was really surprising. To me, when we got past Wednesday’s practice, I thought he was going to sail on in.”

Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf has stood in his quarterback’s corner all season, during the interception issues and the slow starts, and thought Lee was terrific again on Saturday. He’s been impressed with the growth Lee has shown over the course of this year, both in his decision-making and ball placement.

“They’re on time, they’re accurate, they’re beautiful passes,” Langsdorf said. “I think he’s done a nice job of taking care of the ball. That’s the biggest thing. He’s not forcing balls into coverage. He’s had some interception days that haven’t been all his fault. I think the fact that he’s putting the ball in good position, safe positions to get caught, and not jamming them into tight windows and throwing picks is really good for him.

“I think he continues to grow and get better each week that way. I’ve been proud of how he’s prepared and come ready to play each week.”

Riley said there was a lot going on, either Nebraska didn’t have a run game to compliment him – 67 yards total on the ground – or it couldn’t protect him – Penn State logged four sacks and numerous hurries, and yet, Lee continued to hang with it and make big time throws. In that second half, when the Huskers outscored Penn State 34-14 and outgained it 389 to 170, Lee was a near perfect 19-for-22 for 327 yards and all three of his scores. The offense as a whole averaged 10 yards per play. Lee’s left guard, Jerald Foster, wasn’t surprised to see the fifth-year junior spearheading the comeback.

“He’s one of the strongest toughest guys that we have on our team,” Foster said. “Being a quarterback, you’ve got to be that guy. You’ve got to be that guy that leads and pushes and doesn’t quit and Tanner is definitely one of them.

“That second half was Tanner definitely leading us forward. … Tanner specifically, he was behind the o-line, wanted us to keep running the ball, wanted us to keep grinding and that’s what we did.”

Against one of the country’s premier teams, Lee looked every bit the part of a pro and with one game left in the Huskers’ season, the talk turned to the NFL for Lee. Would he return for one more year in Lincoln or would he try and enter the draft?

“I have no idea to be honest with you,” Lee said. “I’m extremely focused on Iowa. That’s a game we want to come out and play well, and we’ll worry about everything after that.”

Riley said he hasn’t discussed the NFL with his quarterback, that if Lee wants advice, Riley’s door is always open but he knows it’s a deeply personal decision. Of course, Lee could benefit from another year in college, but Riley thinks he’s ready now.

“Is he ready? Oh yeah. He’s got all the tangible things,” Riley said. “It would probably be great if he could play another year of college football. But, as far as what he’s got, he’s definitely a prospect.”

Langsdorf said the same.

“Every quarterback can benefit from college game experience,” he said. “The learning curve is big. But he definitely has the tools for sure. I don’t know if you’re ever quite ready for it, making that jump, but he’ll have a chance to do some great things going forward.”

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