Frustrating night for quarterback Tanner Lee, NU as offense fails to 'finish' drives in Wisconsin territory

Nebraska's Stanley Morgan makes a second-quarter reception as Tanner Lee looks on. Lee finished 16 of 32 for 262 yards.

LINCOLN — Tanner Lee wasn’t sacked. He had time to work in the pocket and watched teammate Devine Ozigbo run for a career-best 112 yards.

And yet, the junior quarterback stood at a podium inside Memorial Stadium after Nebraska’s 38-17 loss trying to explain why one of his best performances of the season didn’t translate into better results.

“I think it’s about finishing,” said Lee, who finished 16 of 32 passing for 262 yards. “We gotta finish drives with points and they kept us from doing that today. They were a solid defense just like we knew they were going to be. I think we played them well, we just didn’t come out with the win.”

The game’s opening possession drove home the point. Nebraska moved the ball 58 yards on four plays — Ozigbo broke a 13-yard run and Lee found De’Mornay Pierson-El for 37 more — before disaster struck. On third-and-2 from the UW 17, Lee’s swing pass to Ozigbo bounced off the junior’s helmet and into the arms of a waiting defender. The result was Lee’s fourth pick-six of the season.

The play was one Lee estimated the offense ran 15 times during practice last week. NU coach Mike Riley called the sequence “ridiculous,” saying he can’t remember a time during the week that pass has even fallen incomplete.

“That’s such a huge game-changer,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “Momentum and everything. Those ones are hard to take. But I thought Tanner was really sharp. I thought he gave our guys opportunities to make plays.”

Nebraska’s next drive stalled at the Wisconsin 38-yard line, then another at the UW 44. The Huskers responded by stringing together a 12-play march to the Wisconsin 16, but Drew Brown missed a 33-yard field goal wide right.

Overall, seven NU possessions ended in Wisconsin territory and netted 10 total points.

Despite the frustrations, Lee still found Stanley Morgan on an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 1:20 left in the first half. And he engineered an 11-play, 60-yard drive that took the final 64 seconds off the second-quarter clock following Wisconsin’s quick 75-yard touchdown run.

The Huskers had just four possessions after halftime as Wisconsin ran out the clock with one punishing drive after another. As the Badgers pulled away, second-half yardage also become tougher to acquire both on the ground (nine of 110 total yards) and through the air (59 of 271).

Langsdorf said Wisconsin’s defense lived up to its billing, with defensive backs jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. But Lee worked with what he had, connecting with JD Spielman on multiple third downs for six catches and a career-high 79 yards. Morgan ended with four catches for a career-best 115 yards.

“I thought Tanner played well,” NU center Michael Decker said. “We definitely hit some balls down the field and we were definitely able to stretch them out in the pass game. ... Overall, I thought he played well. He played admirable — he was a good leader out there.”

How would you grade Nebraska's overall performance against Wisconsin?

The Huskers fought back to tie the game at 17 but ultimately fell 38-17 to Wisconsin. How would you grade Nebraska's overall performance?

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Evan Bland covers Nebraska football, baseball and other sports for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @EvanBlandOWH.

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