By Tommy Rezac
The Nebraska Cornhuskers (1-1) trailed by 28 points at halftime and outscored the Oregon Ducks (2-0) 21-0 in the final two quarters, but Oregon ultimately held on for a 42-35 victory on Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 58,389 fans at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR.
The Ducks jumped out to a fast 14-0 start in the first 1:30 of the first quarter, thanks in part to an interception thrown by Nebraska junior quarterback Tanner Lee on the Huskers’ first play from scrimmage.
“I think in every game, there’s some throws you’d like to have back,” Lee said. “It was disappointing. I expect to make those throws all the time. I’ll just continue to work and get better.”
Lee threw four interceptions on the afternoon. The final one came with just 2:17 remaining in the game. Nebraska was trailing by only a touchdown when Lee’s arm was hit at the line of scrimmage on a first down play, causing the ball to wobble slowly up in the air, which gave junior Oregon cornerback Ugo Amadi to fall under the throw and seal Nebraska’s fate.
“I think (Lee) made some really good throws,” Nebraska head football coach Mike Riley said following the loss. “I think he missed some throws that were real close. Right in the fourth quarter, there had to be two or three make-able throws that were just missed. Any one of those, few inches different, catching the ball, changes the look of the game.”
Lee completed 19 out of 41 passes (46. percent) for 253 yards and three touchdowns, in addition to the four INTs.
With Lee coming from Tulane, it’s quite possible that playing Oregon in Eugene was the most daunting game of his career. Riley sees it as a learning tool.
“I think every minute (Lee) is playing right now is awesome for him,” Riley said. “I think we all see his talent. We all see his poise. He took a lot of hits today. We have to do a better job of protecting. But, I think every minute that he gets to play, and every minute in this environment today is awesome. The noise was great as always here in Autzen, but I thought we handled it real well, and the quarterback is the leader of that.”
Besides the offensive struggles, Riley pointed to Oregon’s dominance in the first half as a big factor in the loss.
“It’s been a pretty common fact for the games that I’ve coached in that when you lose the turnover battle and you don’t rush for as many yards as the other guy, you lose the game,” Riley said. “A really, really disappointing start of the game. (Oregon) made some plays and we maybe had some opportunities to make some plays right off the bat and did not.”
“Just really, really let it get out of hand by the end of the first half. It was very, very disappointing.”
Nebraska trailed 42-14 at halftime. The Ducks also out-rushed the Huskers in yardage 201-109.
In the first half alone, Oregon rolled up 409 yards of offense, but just 157 in the second half.
The Ducks out-gained the Huskers in total yardage 566-361 by game’s end.
“In the second half, we started to make some plays defensively,” Riley said. “We started to get some stops. As disappointing as a lot of that was, we’ll have a hard time watching some of that film.”
Despite a number of mistakes on both sides of the ball, Riley admired the effort his players showed down the stretch.
I’ve told everyone from the beginning, I really like this team,” Riley said. “I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s really a team. Football was really inconsistent today, but the team kept playing. We had a shot. As bad as it was, we had a shot. That’s what my summary is.”
Nebraska is back home on Saturday to face the Northern Illinois Huskies (1-1) from the Mid American (MAC) Conference at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. central time. We’ll have full coverage online at NebraskaRadioNetwork.com.