The Nebraska Cornhuskers met with the media Monday following its bye week. Just as the press conference kicked off, it was announced that the Huskers were ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25 and No. 9 in the Amway Coaches Poll. As a result, both head coach Mike Riley and players responded to the announcement.
“From starting outside of [the polls] to getting to where we are right now is very good,” Riley said. “We certainly don’t have to back down or skirt around that because that’s exactly what we want to try to do is continue to grow in the polls and win games. So we’re pleased with where we’re at and really at this stage, all it is is a mid-season ranking so we’ve got to continue to get better and win the next game.”
Riley also said he believes this year’s team is mature enough to handle the hype behind a top 10 ranking. That allows him to balance the excitement of the ranking and the reality of the competition ahead.
“I think this team is pretty mature,” Riley said. “I’ve really liked how we’ve practiced during the bye week. There wasn’t any sign that we were comfortable.”
Kicker Drew Brown felt similar, but also said that the rankings only mean so much to the team. He did recognize the significance of returning to the top 10, though.
“From the team perspective, from all the players and the coaches, it’s just a number,” Brown said. “I mean, we’re out here to win games and out here to do the best that we can and the press will come up with their rankings and that’s just the way it is. For the fans and everyone else involved, it’d a big deal because we haven’t been there in recent history like we were in the 90s consistently.
“I think that it’s cool for the atmosphere but for the team in general, we’re just out here to practice every day and win the next game.”
Offensive lineman Dylan Utter said being ranked in the top 10 was on the Huskers’ 2016 bucket list. That makes Monday’s news a extra special for the senior.
“That’s sweet,” Utter said. “Being a top 10 team was one of our goals but we are trying not to stop there and we want to keep winning. No matter what the ranking is as long as we are going out there and playing our best football that is what matters most.”
More news and notes from Monday’s press conference:
>> Injuries are going to continue to be a hot topic leading up to Indiana, especially with key players expected to be out. Riley said both wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and tight end Cethan Carter are doubtful for Saturday. With that in mind, Riley feels wide receivers coach Keith Williams has done a nice job preparing the receivers to move and rotate depending on needs.
“I think we have four receivers right now that can rotate, really more than that, with (Bryan) Reimers and Gabe Rahn,” Riley said. “I think those guys can go in and seamlessly keep us going because they know what to do.”
>> Speaking of wide receivers, Alonzo Moore also spoke about the status of his injury. He said he’s gone from 25 percent to “probably about 90, 95 [percent]” at this point. His shoulder still hurts when he gets hit but blocking and catching are fine.
It’s worth noting that Moore’s injury happened to the same shoulder as his previous injury but the injury itself is not the same as before.
“It’s the same one but it’s a different injury,” Moore said. “It’s a much more minor injury compared to the one I had last year… I think it will heal pretty quickly. I tried to stay off of it as much as I could and not get hit in it as much as I could and it will heal pretty quickly.”
Moore said he practiced a little bit over the bye week and it “felt great.” He’s not sure what he’ll do this week but he’s happy with how the bye week went overall.
“It was huge for the team, a big recovery week,” Moore said. “The bye week fell at the right time.”
>> As for I-back Devine Ozigbo, his status is currently up in the air. While he currently leads the team with 76 carries, Riley is confident that Terrell Newby (327 yards on 59 carries), Mikale Wilbon and Tre Bryant can step up if needed.
“If Devine is not yet ready then we feel good about our depth there at running back,” Riley said.
>> Offensive tackle David Knevel will return as a starter against Indiana if he’s ready to go. If not, sophomore walk-on Cole Conrad will step up once again. Riley said he and the team are pleased and excited with Conrad’s progress “given his relative youth.”
>> The Huskers focused quite a bit on tackling and ball security (ahem, beeping footballs) during the bye week. Riley said Nebraska tripled the time it spent on tackling drills for individuals.
>> Nebraska and Purdue will kick off on October 22 at 2:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on either ABC or ESPN2.