When the Huskers take the field against Northern Illinois on Saturday, they’ll be doing so without some very key starters on both sides of the ball.
Head coach Mike Riley said after practice Thursday that running back Tre Bryant has yet to practice this week and will not play against the Huskies after reaggravating a knee injury against the Oregon Ducks last week.
“I was kind of hoping to wait as long as I could, but it’s probably too late,” Riley said of Bryant. “He probably won’t play.”
Junior Mikale Wilbon will start in his place, with junior Devine Ozigbo – who has become somewhat of a discussion topic this week for his lack of playing time – will slide into the primary back-up role Wilbon has been occupying.
“We don't have to change too much with any of the backs,” Riley said of the group. “They're all pretty much all-purpose, they all have pretty good hands, they're all knowledgeable about what we do.”
Redshirt freshman Matt Farniok will also make his second straight start at right tackle for the injured David Knevel. Knevel suffered a right ankle sprain in the Arkansas State game in week one that required him to wear a walking boot last week. He did not play against Oregon, and Riley confirmed Thursday that he will not play against the Huskies either.
Freshman tailback Jaylin Bradley also missed practice Thursday with the flu, the Huskers’ “fourth or fifth guy” to catch the bug this week, including tight end Tyler Hoppes, Riley said. And yes, that’s the same bug that has been going through the rest of the Huskers’ athletic department. The women’s soccer team had to postpone its Friday match with Iowa because too many Nebraska players are sick.
Even though Bradley didn’t practice, Riley still expects the back to make his season debut on special teams on Saturday and also said “he’s in the mix” at running back.
As for the defense, senior safety Joshua Kalu is out for Saturday as well and will be replaced by Antonio Reed.
“I don’t even know,” Riley said on a possible timetable for Kalu’s return. “We probably shouldn’t even talk about it until Monday.”
The coaching staff was pleased with Reed’s relief performance against the Ducks, but he has worn a non-contact jersey this week to make sure he’s available to play Saturday, as has safety Aaron Williams.
"We're pretty darn thin in the secondary,” Riley said. “[Williams and Reed] are OK, we expect them to play. They both have injuries that made us make a decision to not want them to get hit.”
After practice Tuesday, Williams wore an ice wrap on his left shoulder. Riley said that area has “been bothering him.
“Aaron's played for a couple of years, he doesn't need more hits on it during the week right now,” Riley said. “We wanted him to have a chance to heal up and Antonio Reed, he's got the bad thumb, … We didn't want him getting mixed up with a lot of people either."
Riley said sophomores Reid Karel and Jeremiah Stovall will be the next men up at safety should they be needed Saturday.
Other news and notes
>> Sophomore tailback Wyatt Mazour has also been out since before the season-opener against Arkansas State with a quad injury.
>> After expressing his disappointment over the Oregon performance on Monday, and saying his team should be sick after watching the film, Riley said he’s been pleased with how they’ve looked in practice this week.
"I've had very little problem with this team,” he said. “I just think we’ll play hard and try to get better, and if we do that then we improve our chances of winning."
>> After battling an injury last week during the run-up to the Oregon game, wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El seems to be back to full strength.
"De'Mornay looked the best that he's looked in a while today,” Riley said.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.