LINCOLN — Stanley Morgan Jr. was one of the few bright spots for the Nebraska offense, not only in Friday’s game against Iowa but for the entire season.
Morgan, a junior from New Orleans, set the school record for receiving yards in a season. He caught seven passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s 56-14 season-ending loss to Iowa at Memorial Stadium.
That gave him 986 yards for the season, which broke the old mark of 942 yards set by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers in 1972.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said the coaching staff knew what Morgan needed to set the record and what he needed to become the first Husker with 1,000 receiving yards in a season, but you can’t make your entire game plan up around that.
“We had a good plan for him and some targets for him,” Langsdorf said. “It’s hard to focus too much on that and try to win the game. There are going to be some things you’re not going to get, but we had some targets for him. You don’t ever want to go through and call a game just with that in mind.”
Morgan caught a 14-yard TD pass from quarterback Tanner Lee to open the scoring in the first quarter. That gave the Huskers an early 7-0 lead.
“It was a great route,” Langsdorf said. “He did a nice job of hitting an inside release. It was really a good play. I thought he had some good moments. He had a couple tough plays in there, but I thought overall he had a nice game.”
Morgan later caught a 28-yard TD pass from Lee to give Nebraska a 14-7 lead with 6:18 left in the first half.
After the Huskers took the lead, it looked like the defense had a three-and-out, but a running into the kicker penalty gave Iowa a first down.
The Hawks took advantage of it and with 75 yards in eight plays to tie the game at 14.
“The wheels kind of came off,” Langsdorf said. “I thought we had a pretty good half there even at halftime to be up a couple of scores. I think the unfortunate penalty on the punt return took away a possession there. We had some momentum. I thought we could make it a 21-7 game and it turned into 14 all.”
It got worse in second half. The Huskers managed just 94 total yards and three first downs in the second half.
Nebraska had an interception sandwiched by two three-and-outs to start the second half.
“I think there are some plays and some things that happen that you just shake your head,” Langsdorf said. “I felt like we had a good rhythm, really run and pass in the first half. To take that in the second half, make a few tweaks and then come out, three-and-out and punt it a couple of times in a row, it’s just hard to overcome in a close game.”
Like Langsdorf, Lee said the Huskers just couldn’t find the rhythm they needed in the second half.
“We faltered a few places execution-wise and keeping drives going,” Lee said. “We just kind of let it get away from us there. It was disappointing how it ended but not disappointed in what I got out of all this.”
The offensive output was certainly disappointing against Iowa. The Huskers had 267 total yards including just 67 on the ground.
But that wasn’t new. The Huskers struggled all season to put together any consistency on offense.
“Disappointing is probably a good way to describe it,” Langsdorf said. “Kind of a roller-coaster. I’m just talking offensively. We’ve had some good moments and some tough times. We just weren’t consistent enough.”
The Huskers had 200 yards passing Friday. Lee was 23-for-42 passing with three interceptions and the two touchdowns to Morgan.
Senior De’Mornay Pierson-El had three catches for 39 yards. JD Spielman, who set freshman records for receiving this season, missed the game with a shoulder injury.
“I thought those guys (Morgan and Spielman) really had solid years,” Langsdorf said. “I think De’Mornay had another productive season to go with his career. I liked how Tanner progressed. He had a couple of picks tonight. One he’s getting stripped on and another he kind of pushed out in front a little bit that got kind of got tugged out of the break.”
The lack of any consistency in the running game may have been the most frustrating thing for Langsdorf.
“I don’t think we were consistent enough running the ball and protecting the quarterback,” Langsdorf said. “Some of the games we were in had us throwing more than we would like. There are a lot of different things.”