EUGENE, Ore. — Mike Riley’s first postgame words were about winning the turnover battle and out-rushing an opponent as the obvious keys to victory.
Nebraska did neither in its 42-35 loss to Oregon on Saturday, and shouldering much of the blame was Husker quarterback Tanner Lee. The junior threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns, but two of his four interceptions started and finished a long uphill battle at Autzen Stadium.
Lee’s final pass came after the Husker defense had denied the Ducks for the seventh time with a three-and-out and 2:17 to play. On first down from his own 43-yard line, Lee dropped and looked to his right, but his throw fluttered when his arm was hit by a blitzing Oregon linebacker.
“We got a decent look and we wanted to make a play,” Lee said, “but I just didn’t get the ball off in time. It was kind of an unfortunate situation, because I really wanted to make a play there.
“We didn’t get it done.”
Lee finished 19-of-41 on the day as Nebraska was forced to go to the air after finding itself down by two touchdowns early and trailing 42-14 at halftime. The Huskers rushed for only 109 yards on 29 carries, and Tre Bryant had 107 with one score before exiting with an injury.
And yet, “bad as it was, we had a shot,” Riley said.
Lee’s day started with a pass into double coverage that bounced off receiver Stanley Morgan’s hands and directly to trailing safety Tyree Robinson, who brought it back 25 yards to the Nebraska 20. When the Ducks scored its second touchdown moments later, the Huskers’ offensive game plan took on a different look.
“I’ve got to make a better throw where that guy can’t get a hand on it and Stanley doesn’t have to turn around,” Lee said. “Make it more of a catch toward the sidelines and that doesn’t happen, so that’s on me.”
Lee connected with De’Mornay Pierson-El for a 23-yard touchdown and threw what might have been his best pass on a 35-yard crossing route to Tyler Hoppes to set up another score that made it 21-14. However, three more Oregon touchdowns by halftime put the onus squarely on Lee’s right arm.
He was 10-of-25 for 147 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the second half.
“We were trying to get back in the game, so we were throwing a lot and we weren’t finding as many of those completions as we’d like,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “We were just so up and down at times.
“We were great at times and then we’d stall out and then we’d go back and play well, kind of like a roller coaster today.”