Coach Mike Riley met with the media for the first time since the loss to Ohio State after Wednesday’s practice.
The bottom line? The Huskers have to score more points.
“I think the consistency of what we do is not good, whether it’s passing or running,” Riley said. “You’ve seen signs, we’ve seen signs of really nice, crisp pass routes, catches, plays, and we’ve seen signs of good productive running, but the consistency of that is what is limiting us and I think it really cuts down on our opportunities to be in the red zone and score points. We have to score more points; that’s the bottom line.”
Nebraska is 83rd in the country in scoring at 25.9 points per game and the Huskers haven’t cracked 30 since week two at Oregon. Nebraska has seen some individual highlights with big plays or overall performance, but as a team they’ve struggled to string drives together and convert once they reach the end zone.
“I’m disappointed in offensive production,” Riley said. “I can’t change what’s happened already, but if I’m going forward, in this day and age of playing football with the points that are being put on the board, we have to be more productive.”
One way Nebraska can improve its consistency is to improve its offensive balance. Early on, Tanner Lee locked in on Stanley Morgan Jr. and targeted him far more than anyone else (team-leading 61 targets). Lately, JD Spielman (55 targets) has taken over that role. Senior De’Mornay Pierson-El is the next closest at 38 targets.
“I’d like those two players to be balanced out pretty much, actually, those two players in particular and then how it fits with everybody else,” Riley said. “I think you’ve seen bits and pieces of what it should look like. Our flanker, De’Mornay and Tyjon [Lindsey], have caught some balls — not necessarily the type of balls that I envisioned early — but they’re catching some. Tight ends, OK. So we’d like to up that a little bit. But if we had good balance between somebody on the split-end side of the field and somebody on the strong side of the field, like JD is, that would be good, and probably targeting them in that number, kind of even, would be good.”
Against the Buckeyes, however, the defense was even worse than the offense, allowing 56 points and eight straight touchdown drives. What disappointed Riley the most about the performance?
“We certainly want to change the production and the execution,” Riley said. “What I would say is most disappointing was not necessarily anything about the plan, it was just the execution of the plan. When you get beat physically, if it’s a one-on-one and you get beat and you just have to make a tackle, I get that. When you absolutely aren’t in your right spot or your area or on your right man, that’s what’s disappointing to me.
“So that’s a combination of all of us doing better, making sure that he knows and then it’s up to that guy to make sure we’re assignment-perfect. That’s what I’d like to change; I’d like to go back and replay some of those, particularly early third downs, and just be in a little better position and see what that would have done for the game.”
Riley said the key is to identify the source of the confusion so that the coaches can eliminate those mistakes moving forward.
“I don’t know if it was just a blown assignment or it was being overwhelmed, what causes that whatever just happened?” Riley said. “When that happens, what causes it? None of these kids try to make a mistake. So when it happens, we have to examine as coaches how we can help that guy better? What in the world did we miss when that happens right there? I don’t know if it was not knowing, not being sure, being overwhelmed by being down early, something bad happens and set guys off, it’s different things. I think it was probably we didn’t give ourselves a chance to play because we weren’t in the right place a lot of times.”
Despite the team’s 3-4 record, Riley said a bowl berth is still very much a team goal, but they have to start moving towards accomplishing that with next weekend’s game.
“I think that kids have to see what might yet be out there, and we don’t know. We don’t know. Things happen," Riley said. "Some of them are out of our control; the other parts are in our control. Going to a bowl game is in our control. Finishing at least second in the West is in our control. Finishing first is not, but things happen … It has to start with Purdue; it has to start with that, it has to go there.
“I think at this point, in our situation, that we have to give them something to be motivated by. Motivation comes in all different packages for people. I’ve got 128 guys and there might be 128 different buttons. But whatever it is that turns you on, let’s push it, let’s go. It might be you being the best player you can be, you being a senior and wanting to have a great finish to your career, whatever your motivation is, let’s punch it and let’s go.”
As far as his job status after Nebraska hired a new athletic director, Riley said he’s focused solely on coaching his team.
>> Riley opened his availability by discussing how the team was handling these bye week practices.
“We just had our second practice of the bye week,” Riley said. “We’re getting good work from our players. Yesterday we went in shells — shoulder pads and helmets. Today we went full gear, had a good team workout. We are doing some things that are preparation specifically for Purdue but we’re doing a lot of football, just practicing. Coaches, in their time between practices, are working on game plans and practice plans, and then practice is kind of a mixed bag, a lot of just football interaction, ones against ones, a lot of good stuff. I’ve appreciated the work. I think these guys have done a nice job.”
Riley said he has been pleased by the effort and the energy that he’s seen from the players in practice.
“I don’t want to sound pie in the sky, but I think it’s great. I think the work for two days has been really good” Riley said. “I have and won’t change my mind about this group of young men. I like them a lot and they work hard. I think their intentions are to practice hard and get better for the next game.”
>> Riley addressed the running back position and the plan for how they would handle it the rest of the season.
“Where we are right now, I’m wide open to the idea of both Mikale [Wilbon] and Devine [Ozigbo] playing,” Riley said. “We made a decision to let Tre [Bryant] go early and play. And then with Tre getting hurt and the other guys taking advantage of opportunities — they both performed well — it’s really hard for me to separate and say ‘OK, let’s just go with Mikale’ or ‘go with Devine.’ Actually I’d like to add a little bit of Jaylin [Bradley] when possible in there. I don’t know exactly how we would do that but I think before this year is over I want to get him some more carries and let him play and impact the game.”
As for Bryant and a decision of whether to play again this season or take a medical redhirt, Riley said they will make that decision in the near future.
“I think we’re getting closer to some resolution there,” Riley said. “The next time I talk to you maybe I’ll have a little more but I wouldn’t say that I should be stepping out any further than that right now.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.