Nebraska Football Practice, 11.15.16

Nebraska offensive lineman Nick Gates (68) warms up during football practice at Hawks Championship Center. Gates is hoping the Huskers can have a strong final month of the season.

Nick Gates is no different than the rest of his Nebraska football teammates. He’s had to revise goals for the rest of the season.

“I’m just going to keep trying to put my best effort on film because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re going to be graded out on,” he said. “That’s what everybody tries to do.”

As for team goals, “Our goal now is to take it game by game and see where it ends up,” he said. “It’s not in our hands anymore.”

In the wake of back-to-back blowout home losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, Nebraska is 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten, which puts the Huskers three games behind Wisconsin (7-0, 4-0) in the West Division. The Badgers obviously hold the tiebreaker over the Huskers.

A 6-foot-5, 295-pound junior left tackle, Gates gave a flat “no” when asked if he was at all concerned about Nebraska being motivated as it prepares for Saturday night’s game at Purdue (6:30 p.m. on BTN).

He fully understands NU will need a lot of help from Wisconsin if the Huskers hope to win the division.

“If that doesn’t happen, we’re fine because we dug ourselves into that hole,” he said.

Nebraska’s offense has contributed to the problems, plagued by inconsistency, which explains why the Huskers rank 80th nationally in total offense (385.6) and 85th in scoring (25.9).

What’s more, the Huskers are eighth in the Big Ten in average yards per carry at 4.1.

Gates, who has started 24 straight games (including all seven this season), said he feels “pretty good” about what he’s put on tape individually.

“It could be a little bit better, but I feel like it’s not bad,” he said. “There are definitely things I need to work on.”

In that regard, the former Las Vegas resident said he needs to work on “being a little more consistent in pass pro.”

“That’s a big thing at the next level (NFL) because they throw the ball a little bit more,” he said. “That’s one thing I need to work on a lot.”

As for the offensive line as a group, “There are definitely things we could do better,” he said. “Pass pro could be better. We could definitely take hits off of Tanner (Lee), and that’s definitely one thing we need to work on — being a little bit more physical at the point of attack and winning our one-on-one battles.”

Lee has played better of late, throwing only one interception in the past three games after throwing nine in the first four.

Protection has been OK in the last couple games. Nebraska allowed only one sack combined in the losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin. However, Lee was hit in the pocket too often for Gates’ liking.

Protection was even worse earlier in the season, he said.

“We’re not going to blame it on this, but we weren’t used to a pocket passer,” said Gates, referring to Tommy Armstrong, who repeatedly scrambled out of trouble while starting 44 games at quarterback from 2013-16.

A junior transfer from Tulane, Lee is much more of a stationary target.

“If we want him to be healthy toward the end of the season, we can’t have the seven, eight, nine, 10 hits on him a game that was happening at the beginning of the season,” said Gates, insisting Lee’s struggles earlier in the season were due in large part to the offensive line’s inconsistency.

“We really weren’t giving him too much time. I mean, I’d be scared to be back there, too, the way we were playing in the first couple games.”

Gates said Nebraska’s bye last week gave everyone in the program a chance to regroup.

“You’ve got to get away from football every now and then — don’t get your mind completely away from it, but definitely try not to think about it all the time,” he said.

The players had Saturday and Sunday off. Gates went to Omaha for a wedding involving one of fellow offensive lineman Cole Conrad’s friends.

Gates did catch some NFL on TV — he’s a fantasy league player.

This week, the action gets real again against Purdue (3-4, 1-3), which is allowing only 19.3 points per game to rank 26th nationally.

“They’re big up front, athletic,” Gates said. “They’re a good team. They’re going to be a tough team to score on. We’re going to have to take every opportunity we can because a lot of their games have been low scoring.”

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