After a week of vowing to clean up mistakes and sloppy play, things only got worse for the Nebraska offensive line.
After allowing three sacks and two hits on quarterback Tanner Lee last Saturday in a 42-35 loss to Oregon, the Husker front five struggled once again to provide protection.
The Huskies' attacking defensive front sacked Lee three times and forced the junior quarterback into several hurries and ill-timed throws in a 21-17 Northern Illinois upset on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
So, after a week of emphasis on keeping Lee upright and clean, what led to so many breakdowns? No one could (or would) pinpoint anything specific, however a theme rang clear afterward: lack of consistency.
“It’s a total combination,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “We’re both getting beat and being confused up front. We play as a unit, but right now we’re not consistent enough run blocking or pass blocking.”
Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf also addressed the issue of confusion up front in terms of seeing different stunts and looks from the opposition.
“I think it’s a little bit of both (confusion and consistency)," Langsdorf said. "We got beat on some one-on-ones, but also got picked a few times on stunts. You’re always concerned about the ability to handle stunts and different pressures. I don’t think we ever felt we’d have that much trouble protecting. We have to continue to find ways to get the backs and tight ends to help the line. We obviously can’t continue to have those five guys without other help.”
While the message was to not throw anyone under the bus, the underlying tone from both Riley and Langsdorf was improvement up front is a non-negotiable moving forward.
“I don’t know that I need to put the finger on anybody,” Riley said. “Our results offensively speak for themselves as a very disappointing effort.”
The Huskies’ 4-3 defense harassed Lee into two first-half interceptions that were returned for touchdowns as Northern Illinois took a 14-0 lead.
The latter of the two scores came deep in Husker territory as Northern Illinois’ Jawuan Johnson stepped in front of a Lee throw. The theft occurred while Lee was under heavy duress from Huskies’ junior defensive end Drequan Brown.
Nebraska avoided further disaster in the second quarter after Lee was crushed by the Huskies’ Sutton Smith and lost the ball. However, replay overturned the fumble to a sack and allowed the Huskers to punt.
Smith beat Nebraska redshirt freshman right tackle Matt Farinok on the play. Farinok was making just his second career start in place of the injured David Knevel.
Rush yards didn’t come easy for Nebraska, either. The Huskers were limited to 85 yards on the ground for the game. Junior back Mikale Wilbon, making his first career start, led the way with 90 yards on 24 carries.
After the game, junior left guard Jerald Foster said that the Huskies didn't do anything out of the ordinary defensively to give Nebraska fits up front.
“Nothing specific,” Foster said. “I would say that they were playing their game. I would say they were doing what they were taught. Nothing really specific that really got us. We just didn’t have the day we wanted.”
Foster said remaining upbeat and motivated will be important moving forward.
“We understand we have a lot more games to look forward to. This is the nonconference, so our ambitions for the Big Ten are still always open. It’s a hard game, but we are going to pull together and take it day-by-day.”