Husker Mailbag: Is Mike Riley's Chair Getting Hot?
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Husker Mailbag: Is Mike Riley’s Chair Getting Hot?

August 31, 2017

The Mailbag has moved to a new day! The squad takes a look at several different questions facing the Huskers ahead of their season opener with Arkansas State on Saturday.

Who are some in state kids that will more than likely be a part of the walk on class this year? (@captainwaller)

GS: So far, WR Justin Holm from Lincoln Southwest has accepted a preferred walk-on role. Others that will get looks include TE Bryce Stai from Firth and Lincoln Southwest’s Cameron Pieper. Pieper is getting a look from Nebraska as a long snapper and has other schools interested in him at tight end. Others will surely emerge.

JP: Another couple names to keep an eye on are Omaha North running back Milton Sargbah, Omaha Skutt linebacker Jake Archer and O’Neill wide receiver Wyatt Liewer. All of the players we named here were at the second Friday Night Lights camp back in June.

More carries for Jaylin Bradley or more catches for Tyjon Lindsey on Saturday? (@TheWeeksy)

GS: I’ll go catches for Tyjon Lindsey but the over/under for both should be set at 3.5.

MB: I agree with Greg, catches for Lindsey. I wouldn’t venture an over/under. Numbers for either will depend on how the game goes. If the Huskers take control, they might both have opportunities. Bradley has three veteran backs ahead of him. Lindsey is No. 2, behind De’Mornay, and there might be more passing.

JP: I’ll definitely take Lindsey. If I had to guess, I’d say Bradley will get more snaps on special teams than he does on offense. With three other guys ahead of him and him being a true freshman, I don’t know what kind of a role he’ll have on offense this early in the season.

DP: I’ll go Lindsey here because of what everyone has already said before me: opportunity. Lindsey has more of it in the opener than Bradley. But if we’re placing the over/under at 3.5 touches, I think Bradley still hits that.

Is Conrad going to finally give us a C who can snap the ball and not get pushed straight into QBs lap? Or should we expect same bad play? (@JoelFerebee)

MB: Obviously, the idea is that he won’t get pushed into the quarterback’s lap, otherwise he wouldn’t have been moved. He seems to have adjusted to the position, and my sense is he’s strong enough to get a push. Your question relates to a critical issue, obviously, since he hadn’t played there until into last spring. I thought Decker would end up the guy, or even Raridon, but the experiment with him must not have worked.

DP: I think it’s probably too hopeful to think there won’t be at least some issues with the snap just because, like Mike said, Conrad has been playing center since the spring. But, I don’t see the staff giving him the starting nod and a scholarship if they’re not confident he can provide some nasty up front.

JP: And as for getting pushed back into the quarterback’s lap, Conrad is bigger and stronger than Dylan Utter so hopefully we’ll see him hold his ground a little better.

What's your prediction for the running game? (@IBeLionsBeats)

MB: I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m still wait-and-see about the running game. Clearly, it has to work for Lee to succeed. Riley said though three guys are connected by “or” at the top of the depth chart, the coaches have an idea about one stepping up. We’ll see. Also, I’m waiting to be convinced the offensive line has improved. I think it has, but . . . 

DP: I would suspect you’re going to see an awful lot of Tre Bryant on Saturday. Mike Riley said earlier in the week some guys will be situational, leading me to believe someone like Ozigbo gets more work in short-yardage situations than anything else. I like Ozigbo, but Bryant probably gets all he can handle.

How does our team look physically, now 3 years under coach Philipp? (@evawearsred)

GS: Strength coaches are the unsung heros of successful college teams and I believe Nebraska has a great one in Mark Philipp. It feels like each year he has been here, we talk about an increased number of players that look like a million bucks. You will notice the difference even more over the next two years as they mold bodies on defense to fit the 3-4.

JP: Take a look at guys like Mick Stoltenberg, Freedom Akinmoladun and Matt Farniok who have all added a significant amount of good weight over the last year or so. Heck, Mikale Wilbon is absolutely ripped. Devine Ozigbo looks to be in better shape than he was the last two years. I could go on and on, but the team has definitely made a lot of strength and conditioning progress under Philipp.

Does Tanner Lee finish the season with higher or lower than -200 rushing yards?, Mannion had -804 in 4 years with Riley (@NebraskaPhil)

MB: Good question. I’ll say lower. The line allowed 15 sacks for 135 yards in losses last season, but that was with Tommy Armstrong Jr. avoiding some. Ryker Fyfe was dropped for 82 yards in losses and finished with -28 net in eight games, two starts. Out of curiosity, I looked up Zac Taylor’s numbers in 2006. He was dropped for 186 yards in losses but finished with a net of -32. So -200 seems a lot if it’s net rushing. If Lee’s net approaches that, the offense will have issues. Mannion’s career interceptions were fairly high as well, if I remember right.

JP: Lee lost 125 yards on the ground as a freshman and 182 as a sophomore at Tulane. Nebraska’s offensive line is still a question, but I think it’s safe to say it is better than what he was working with at Tulane. I’ll take the under but not by a ton.

What will your eyes be focused on during the first few drives of the opener? (@marcus_scheer)

JP: This is a tough one because there is so much that I’m interested in tracking with all the questions marks on this team. On defense, because I don’t think Nebraska will show too many tricks in the front seven I will try to watch the cornerbacks to see how that young unit holds up. On offense, the running backs are the easy answer but I’m also going to try to keep an eye on De’Mornay Pierson-El to see how often he gets open and what kind of routes he is running.

DP: If you care to read a little bit more, I offered some more drawn out thoughts on this on Wednesday.

GS: The offensive line will have my eyes to start the game. We need to see improvement there and on paper the veteran group should be very good. Beyond that, I want to see the linebacker group particularly on the inside to see how they handle shedding blocks on runs.

Callahan & Pelini made a conference title game by at least year 3, if Riley doesn't this year is he on the hot seat? Eichorst too? (@Sker_Illuminati)

JP: No. If he wins four or five games? Maybe then, but if Nebraska wins eight or nine games and finishes second to Wisconsin, Riley will be just fine.

DP: Short answer, no. I honestly think even if he were to win five games his seat would still be nice and cool under him. The administration likes Riley. His players like him, the coaching staff seems to enjoy working with him (if you want Bob Diaco to talk, ask him about Riley) and he represents what they want the program to represent. I think everyone knows this season could go really well or it could get rough. If Kevin Sumlin is still at Texas A&M despite “being on the hot seat” every year, Riley’s safe. He’s probably got this year and next year left before this actually becomes a legitimate question. But I do like that you pointed out AD Shawn Eichorst, they’re tied together at this point, in my eyes.

GS: Riley is 3 years away from being in hot seat territory. Despite how last year finished, we have to remember the team won 9 games last year. Riley is also Eichorst’s guy so it will take a lot for there to be real pressure there. They are joined at the hip though and I believe if one of them goes the other will at the same time.

Not many stories on Aaron Williams lately, how will his IQ, skills and leadership impact the Blackshirts? (@lredeugene)

JP: We’ve been told safeties are incredibly important to this defense, and because of that Williams should have plenty of opportunity to make a big impact. He’ll be one of the lead communicators in terms of shifting coverage where it needs to go pre-snap. Physically, his experience at nickel should make him really valuable as a lot of offenses try to target safeties in coverage, and Williams should be able to hold up in those situations quite well.

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