LINCOLN, Neb. – Mike Riley met with the media after Thursday evening’s practice to discuss the Huskers’ upcoming game against Illinois as well as the protest by three of his players that has caught so many headlines recently.
>> Riley confirmed that right guard Tanner Farmer and wide receiver Alonzo Moore will both be out this week, although he didn’t have any other injuries to report. Senior Corey Whitaker will start at right guard in Farmer’s place.
Nebraska’s top two back-up options in Sam Hahn and Whitaker have now been pressed into the starting lineup by injury, leaving the Huskers pretty shallow along the line. However, Riley said he isn’t worried about it.
“I think these guys will do a nice job,” Riley said. “They’ve practiced a long time. I thought Whitaker stepped in there last week and did a nice job and we kind of function very, very easily with Corey going in the game. Certainly we don’t like to have guys hurt, but at the same time, football always comes down to some point in the season, somewhere, next guy up. Every team deals with it. I think these guys are prepared, and I think that you also find out about some of the other guys, like all of a sudden I’m getting questions about Cole Conrad, and that’s a good thing. He’s young and I think he’s going to develop into a good player for us.”
Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh confirmed on Wednesday that Conrad would be the next man up at any position along the line if any of the starters were to suffer an injury on Saturday.
“I think Cole, just through a long period of time, has really proved his work ethic, his knowledge of what we’re doing, he’s a very diligent person, a hard-worker, a good athlete and very versatile,” Riley said. “He right now could play tackle, guard or center for us, and probably is the first back-up for us at each of those positions right now. That says a lot about him and his investment in this thing.”
>> Riley said last year’s 14-13 loss at Illinois was a tough pill to swallow, but because of the coaching change they used that game more as a learning tool during the offseason than they did preparation for this year’s matchup.
“It was a really, really frustrating loss,” Riley said. “Of course now we have two different teams. So we tried to learn from that game and we tried to take a lot from that game in the offseason in our learning. For now, Lovie [Smith] is there, a new coach is there, this team is new and different than it was a year ago. Whatever part that plays I’m not sure. I know it played a big role in our offseason as coaches because it’s a disappointing thing to remember.”
>> Riley also spoke at length about three of his players taking a knee during the national anthem.
When asked if he would personally take a knee like his players did if there was a cause he truly believed in, he said “probably.”
“For issues like this, we all know this is a real thing, so I think that how you want to do that – and maybe there are other people on our team that would think about doing it – but I don’t think that that necessarily matters,” Riley said. “I think the neat thing about what happened was everybody is talking about the issue. It’s a real thing that people live, so to make it a relative topic and part of a conversation, I can’t see where that’s ever bad.”
Riley said he hasn’t seen the national attention the players’ protest has drawn affect the team in any way.
“I love that about this team – I think that they’re pretty good at compartmentalizing,” Riley said. “I haven’t noticed anything about that being a factor. But for me it’s a good question, because you worry about that, especially Thursdays because that’s my paranoia time of the week to wonder what’s going on. I’d have to make it up if I said I thought I saw something that was different. This team likes to play football, they like each other. This team has been through a lot together. It’s an unbelievable story, I think, from quite a while ago. I’ve been proud of them that way.”
Riley closed by talking about the difficulties of dealing with all that has happened to the team thus far, and went on to talk about the responsibility of all those working in a university environment.
“Some of it you obviously never want to talk about dealing with. The way I look at it, I don’t know about challenges. If you’re in education and involved with young people, you’re going to deal with life, and all these things are part of life. And that’s why none of these things are a surprise to me lately about what’s going on because it’s neat, young people are going to college, they’re exploring a lot about themselves and what’s going on and they’re relating to their own personal reality, and nobody can tell other people what their personal reality is. So when they can teach about it and talk about it and they’re in a college environment about education, I think it’s kind of natural that stuff comes up. We have to be prepared to be able to sit in a quiet moment and make a decision some time about how we’re going to handle this and what’s going go on. To me, events like this are kind of exciting.”
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.