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Husker Coaches 'Swarm' State of Nebraska with Visits
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: A New Beginning

April 13, 2017

Mike Riley got the BTN treatment on Wednesday, answering questions for senior writer Tom Dienhart. Much of it was your standard “how’s spring going?” stuff that, if you’ve been following along the past couple of weeks, will feel pretty familiar.

Asked about the running backs, Riley said there’s a “1 and 1A right now,” then mentioned Tre Bryant and Mikale Wilbon first. He continued to play things pretty much down the middle with the quarterbacks, though he did throw out a 70-percent completion rate again and that’s still something of a jarring number.

Over the last nine seasons (2008-16), 23 teams have completed 70 percent or better. That’s not a lot. Wisconsin did it twice (2010 with Scott Tolzien and 2011 with Russell Wilson) with Paul Chryst as its offensive coordinator. In 2008, the only three teams to do it — Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech — hailed from the Big 12. (Welcome to the league, Bo.) Of course, there’s “nothing magical” about completing 70 percent over, say, 68.8, but point is it’s a high number to hit. Aim for the stars and all that, but if this offense is predicated on something approaching that number, it’s a pretty high hurdle.

The most interesting part of the interview, however, was the big-picture stuff.

Q: Is this where you thought you’d be going into your third year in Lincoln?

A: I would like to say “yes.” With some of the stuff we wanted to establish football-wise and in the program, I feel good about the team and its energy for football. But when you are transitioning the skill set of the quarterback, are you as far along as you would be if this skill set had been there right from the start? Probably not. But we like the talent. This is going to be kind of like starting again. We have guys who are more capable as drop-back passers. I also know what that brings from a defense, so the efficiency has to be really good.

“This is going to be kind of like starting again.” I know many people felt that way coming into the 2017 season, but I’m not sure I recall Riley ever saying it so directly. Then there was the politely phrased hot-seat question.

Q: You are 15-11 overall and 9-8 in the Big Ten. Are you feeling any pressure leading a program that hasn’t won a conference title since 1999?

A: Oh, no. One thing I have is perspective. I have been in it long enough to just focus on the immediate. I know what they want here. They want to get one of those trophies back. That is kinda why we came. I have a more realistic viewpoint of what we need to do football-wise in this league and with this team. And I have a better understanding of the recruiting we have to do and level at which we have to recruit. I know winning five games (before the bowl win) my first year, that’s not exactly the expectations. I think we did better. But I think we just found out more of what we have to do. I don’t feel any different now than when I did in my first year at Oregon State.

Fair enough. Given the way the first two seasons unfolded, I’m not sure there’s a better response available.

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