Nebraska football, first day of spring practice, 3/4

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee talks with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf during a March practice at Hawks Championship Center.

Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf was talking about Tanner Lee earlier this week — tamping down folks' over-the-top expectations for the quarterback — but a portion of the coach's words told you a lot about his own persona.

"I think just laying in the weeds and being even-keel is a much better way to live than riding the wave of the highs and lows," Langsdorf said.

The comment is a window into Langsdorf's essence — at least that's my read on the third-year Husker assistant. He strikes me as the employee in your office who quietly and steadily produces without complaint. He strikes me as the poker player you forget about until he's collecting all the chips.

As Nebraska's 2017 opener approaches, Langsdorf is lying in the weeds, just as he prefers. Most of the discussion is about Husker defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his potential impact. If the discussion isn't about Diaco, it's about Lee and his potential impact. If the discussion isn't about Diaco and Lee, it's about third-year Husker head coach Mike Riley. Does Riley have the Big Red ship steered in the right direction?

If there's a discussion about Husker assistant coaches who might have some heat on them this season, well, Langsdorf doesn't even top that list. It seems folks are keeping a close eye on the offensive line.

But this feels like an important season for Langsdorf, if only because Nebraska's scoring average has trended down under his watch, going from 37.8 points per game in 2014 under Tim Beck to 32.8 in 2015 and 26.5 last season.

Now, of course, things have changed. Langsdorf and Riley have a quarterback who fits their pro-style system. With that in mind, Langsdorf was asked this week whether he's been waiting for two years to be able to call the offense he really wants to call.

He quickly shot down that notion. His response was admirable. It reflected his essence — no complaining, no excuses.

"I think Tanner is exciting. He's going to be a lot of fun," Langsdorf said. "But we had a lot of good stuff with Tommy (Armstrong) and Ryker (Fyfe) in the past. I think just the transition altogether, especially in year one, was just so different for everybody that there were some growing pains.

"And then Tanner hasn't played for us," the coach added. "So there's going to be some rookie stuff with him, too. But I like where we're at as a group. I think we've made a lot of progress, really, over the last couple years, and changing the quarterback a little will be different."

You probably won't hear any wild proclamations from Langsdorf. He's usually measured in his responses.

You won't always agree with his play calls. But, heck, you won't always agree with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' play calls, and McDaniels is widely regarded as the best offensive coordinator in the NFL.

But we can all agree Nebraska's offensive production should improve this season, right? Seven starters return from last season, and several other players have ample experience in the system.

"We're so much further along in fall camp than we've been," Langsdorf said earlier this week.

So, you have to expect that Nebraska will reverse the three-year decline of its yards-per-play average — from 6.22 to 6.09 to 5.36.

Langsdorf has high expectations. He wants to be clicking at a high level right out of the gate Saturday night — playing at a quick tempo has been a priority this month. Lee helps matters greatly.

In fact, if the Nebraska offense improves significantly this season, many folks will point to Lee as the primary reason — more so than Langsdorf.

I'm guessing Langsdorf wouldn't mind staying in the weeds. Seems like his style.


Thumbs up to De'Mornay Pierson-El for his creativity in describing why he's excited about watching Nebraska's defense this season. "It's annoying, but I think people will be shocked by what it can do," the senior receiver/return man said. I hope Pierson-El doesn't mind if I steal the adjective "annoying" to describe disruptive defenses in the future. Always looking for new material.

Thumbs down to Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen, whose record at the school fell to 6-19 with last week's 58-27 loss at Colorado State. John Canzano, columnist for The Oregonian, wrote recently, "From the moment Andersen showed up it's been, 'We need to be tougher ... stronger... better ... and we need to stop making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves and fight." Andersen has railed against the notion of "little old Oregon State." It seems that remains the reality.


The Mountain West Conference seems poised for a comeback in part because it has a total of 11 returning starters at quarterback, led by Wyoming's Josh Allen — a likely first-round draft pick. Three MWC teams play a Big Ten opponent this week: Wyoming at Iowa; Utah State at Wisconsin; and Nevada at Northwestern. Hot take alert: The MWC goes 1-for-3 in those games, with Wyoming upending Iowa.


(Notice the three SEC coaches on the list).

1. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: "Coach knows he has to win and he has to win this year," Aggies athletic director Scott Woodward said this summer on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Say no more.

2. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: He has two new coordinators, a new special-teams coach and a new strength coach. After a 4-8 season in 2016, he also has a ton of pressure on him.

3. Butch Jones, Tennessee: Can he turn the corner past 9-4? Plenty of folks think Jones has hit his ceiling in Knoxville.

4. Jim Mora, UCLA: Well, well, well. It's Mora vs. Sumlin on Sunday in the Rose Bowl. No pressure or anything.

5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn: The Tigers played for the national title in Gus Malzahn's first season. Since then, they've been 8-5, 7-6, 8-5.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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