Nebraska is 4-0 and it feels like a “new year” for head coach Mike Riley. At Monday’s press conference, he spoke about becoming more familiar with the Big Ten as the Huskers prepare to face Illinois.
“I suppose as you spend longer in the league, you get a sense of how you feel about those upcoming games through a history,” Riley said. “I certainly had those thoughts for years in the Pac-12 year-to-year, but it’s really for us, more than just coach speak to stay in the moment and enjoy the preparation. We certainly have many areas to improve in that we have to focus on.”
Illinois is also coming off its bye week, which is something Riley is cautious of with the Huskers.
“We’re going to play a team that has had a week extra preparation, so we just have to be ready to play a good game, regardless of history,” Riley said.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is fine keeping last year’s loss between Nebraska and Illinois in the past. While he doesn’t look back on the loss, he does use it as a reminder that the team has to put itself in the right situation to win.
“Last year we kind of kept those guys fighting and kept giving them chances early on,” Armstrong said. “We have just got to make sure we take care of the ball and put ourselves in the right situation to win the game. We have got to take care of the ball and make sure that we do the right things this upcoming Tuesday and prepare the right way. We have to make sure that we are on the right page with everyone. Like Coach (Mike) Riley said, with a bunch of guys being knicked up, we have got to make sure that everybody is prepared.”
Armstrong may not look back, but Riley has.
“We certainly spent a lot of time studying all of our situations and taking other teams’ situations and looking at them,” Riley said. “And trying to be real definitive in the packaging of what we do in situations, that you know it might be the end of the game but it might be the end of the half, it might just be just regular situations in the game, how you want to handle them. So this thing about football whether you’ve coached a few years or 40 years, there’s still an awareness learning process that has to take place for me personally and for what is passed onto your team, so you react better.
“But I think having been in those situations and the number of guys we have returning, I think they’re now actually tools and can be helpful for us. Because I think there’s a special emphasis to how important those seconds are, how important that execution is, and those critical situations like that. And so I think that the emphasis and the preparation has probably been the best thing that’s come of that since that happened.”
More news and notes from Monday’s press conference:
>> Michael Rose-Ivey addressed the media with a prepared statement. He spoke about racism and social injustice, which Riley reiterated his support of.
“There are 140 guys,” Riley said. “We’ve all grown up differently. The very first word I use at the start of each year is respect. Because we have guys from all kinds of backgrounds, and from all parts of the country, we have a real nice melting pot. I love it.
“Then you have a bunch of kids who are also in college. You gain a whole new awareness of the world as you go, and you start to form those opinions that are going to make you who you are for the rest of your life. So it’s a real interesting thing and it’s a really special opportunity for us to be involved with these kids at this time in their lives.”
Armstrong agreed. He spoke candidly about what his teammates mean to him.
“There are a lot of people in this world that have different opinions, but at the same time you have got to be able to accept that and say, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinions are, at the end of the day, that is your opinion,'” Armstrong said. “Different people have different religions, but you do not look at them a different way. They are all people, so like I told them, at the end of the day those guys are my brothers, they are my friends, some of them closer friends than others, but at the same time they are my brothers and I support them no matter what.”
>> On the injury front, Riley said both wide receiver Alonzo Moore and offensive tackle Tanner Farmer are “doubtful” against Illinois. Moore is recovering from a shoulder injury that has plagued him for some time, while Farmer is dealing with a high ankle sprain suffered against Northwestern.
“Tanner is probably out,” Riley said. “It’s a high ankle sprain. So we’ll see about that. I’d say Alonzo is doubtful because he has played two games like that, so our initial thing is let’s just get him healthy so he doesn’t have to play like that. He still does a good job, and I wouldn’t rule him out totally. But our inclination is to get him healthy.”
>> Biggest issue against Saturday? Riley said special teams and called kickoff “average at best.”
>> Wide receivers coach Keith Williams will be back on the sideline against Illinois, which Riley and the team are looking forward to.
“I told him today we better win, otherwise he’s going back in the box,” Riley said. “I think it’s going to be great to have Keith back, that was a hard, no-good situation. I think we’ve been through the consequences of that, so we’re excited to have him back now, full-fledged into the practices, the games, and the whole part. It’ll be real good for the Huskers to have him back.”
>> Armstrong was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. It’s an honor Armstrong has earned three times in his career, which he credited to his teammates for making possible.
“It means a lot,” Armstrong said. “It means our offense did a great job. I couldn’t have gotten that award without my teammates and great blocking by our receivers and our offensive line blocking their tails off. It is not only for me, it is for those guys that did a great job to get me the things I did to deserve that. They did a great job as a unit, as an offense. So that means a lot but at the same time we have just got to keep moving forward and keeping driving and feeding off of that.”