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Tanner Lee used the same word again and again after Nebraska's loss to Northwestern, so much so he even called himself on it.

And while Husker fans may have other adjectives to describe what happened Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Lee kept coming back to one.

Tough.

Coming off a career game at Purdue, one in which he threw for 431 yards and directed a game-winning touchdown drive in final seconds, Lee prepared this week to face a Northwestern pass defense ranked 119th in the nation.

By the end of Saturday's overtime loss that included two incompletions and a disastrous sack in overtime, not to mention three interceptions, Lee was trying to put into words the disappointment of not getting the job done.

"I think I have been able to rally behind my teammates and I think we've all been able to help each other when things like that are going on because it is tough when you're having a tough season," Lee said. "I always rely on those guys in every situation. Those are the guys I hang out with all week, I hang out with after games; the guys I love practicing with, playing games with, and the only thing that really matters to me is wanting to play well for my coaches and wanting to play well for my teammates. Because those are the guys that put in the endless hours of work with me and for me, and we do it together."

Lee finished 21-of-38 against the Wildcats, throwing for 225 yards and three interceptions to go with a pair of touchdowns. His first pick of the game, on Nebraska's second drive, ended a string of 122 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. That number was within shouting distance of Scott Frost's school record 155 straight attempts without a pick.

There were breakdowns across the board on all three of Lee's turnovers, according to NU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. 

On the first, Langsdorf said he put Lee in a bad position with the play call. On the second, Lee didn't see a defender waiting to break on the play.

On the third, with Nebraska driving and looking for a two-possession lead, Lee had JD Spielman open on a play that also had a seven-man protection up front. It wasn't enough. Lee was hit as he threw, and the ball fluttered into the arms of an out-of-position defender to kill Nebraska's momentum.

"It was a little bit of everything, whether it was the call or the read or the protection," Langsdorf said. "Obviously, in a game like that we couldn't afford turnovers. And that's something we had really talked about going into the game was being really clean on penalties and turnovers, and I don't think either one of them was a good stat for us."

Nebraska coaches knew the Huskers would likely struggle to run the ball against Northwestern's 17th-ranked rush defense. Langsdorf admitted the running game was better than expected. The passing game wasn't able to complement it. At the same time, he explained, it's difficult to draw parallels from a Purdue game in which Lee was nearly flawless to the disappointment of Saturday.

"Every game's different. You have different coverages, different defenders," Langsdorf said. "I don't think you can pin it on any one thing. I just don't think we executed in the crunch as well as we did last week."

Lee and the Nebraska offense have three games remaining to salvage something from what has been a tough season. It won't be easy. Penn State and Iowa will be out for blood. Minnesota, despite its record, will be no picnic. In the meantime, Lee said, he'll stick to what's brought him this far.

"I think we should be better week-to-week because of the things we go through during games," Lee said. "I enjoy this — I enjoy the process. I enjoy football. When we go through tough times you've just kind of got to realize that it happens, but the way you respond is what matters."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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