Nebraska Coach Mike Riley took a few questions from media members Sunday night following the announcement that the Huskers will face Tennessee in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30. Though Nebraska has had a week off since the end of the season, the Huskers will enter bowl preparation this week still having some uncertainty at quarterback.
Senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. played in the Iowa game with a hamstring injury, an injury that continues to linger.
“It’ll be slow for him to resume full speed,” Riley said. “I think we were real fortunate that he was even able to play [against Iowa]. In order to let that thing heal, he’s not going to go full speed in the early part of the bowl preparation.”
The bowl game is a lasting memory of the season that just occurred, so it’s important to win.
Armstrong’s backup, senior Ryker Fyfe, injured his wrist in the win over Maryland. He was available for the Iowa game and played the final series, but his recovery remains a work in progress as well.
Despite that, Riley said there is no question about who the Huskers’ starter is if both players are healthy.
“Tommy will start if he’s going to be healthy for a good period of the preparation time. That might mean a week or 10 days before the game,” Riley said. “I’d like to think that his leg would be healthy and that Ryker would be able to function properly for the whole game and that they would be able to practice, but I don’t know that yet.
“If everything was good and they’re healthy, Tommy’s going to start the game. If this drags on with Tommy then we’ll spend that early time getting Ryker ready to start and just see where Tommy progresses to after that.”
On to some other notes from the Q&A session:
>>Nebraska has not yet formally announced the hire of Donte Williams for its open assistant coaching spot, but Riley said, without naming Williams specifically as Bruce Read’s replacement, that an announcement should be coming “very soon” and took some questions on the appeal of a coach with a proven history of success in recruiting.
“We all know that recruiting is vital to your future,” Riley said. “You’ve got to evaluate and recruit the right fit for Nebraska, that’s person and talent combined. Recruiting is really, really important but what we always try to look for as we go forward is that person that will be great for our team on the field, off the field, in the classroom as he teaches and then is also a good evaluator and recruiter. We’re looking always for that combination.”
Nebraska will not have a special teams coach going forward, instead splitting up those duties among the existing staff. Riley said the forthcoming hire gives the Huskers five assistants on the defensive side and he is hopeful that an NCAA proposal to allow teams to have 10 full-time assistants will be approved. If that happens, Riley plans to add the next assistant to the offensive staff, giving the Huskers five assistants on that side of the ball as well.
>>The decision to fire Read two days after the end of the regular season wasn’t an “overnight decision” Riley said, adding that part of the reason for the quick move was to add to the defensive staff and get some help in recruiting while also giving Read ample time to look for his next opportunity.
>>Riley reiterated that the Huskers are looking to sign around 22 players for the 2017 recruiting class.
>>As for the game itself, Nebraska will have to get up to speed quickly on Tennessee, a team Riley hasn’t seen much of this season.
“We will certainly take advantage of the time that we get,” he said. The bowl game is a lasting memory of the season that just occurred, so it’s important to win. The other part of it is that it’s a great time to practice and develop the younger players in the program.”
Riley’s teams have traditionally done well with the long layoff as he is 7-2 over his career in bowl games, including last year’s win over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.
“We try to take advantage in every way of the opportunity to study the opponent over a period of time. You just get some extra preparation time, some extra film time to get ready, so that’s always good. We try to combine some good competition within our team with the actual preparation of what the opponent does. That’s kind of been our formula for a long time.”
Nebraska will being practicing for the bowl on Friday, Dec. 9.