When head coach Mike Riley met with the media for his Monday morning press conference, he was demonstrably upset about his team’s performance in the 42-35 loss to Oregon on Saturday.
“The reality of it, watching the film on Sunday, it’s really disappointing,” Riley said. “Really felt like a lost opportunity.”
The offense was incredibly inconsistent, the defense struggled mightily in the first half against the Oregon tempo and speed, and the team fell behind 42-14 after just 30 minutes of play.
“Offensively, there’s a glimmer of what our identity can be,” Riley said. “What has to improve there is the consistency of it. It shows up for a while, disappears for a while. We’ll have some great drives, good finishes and then we’ll go three-and-out three times in a row. It’s ridiculous, it shouldn’t happen.”
Riley said the overall picture from the offense through the first two weeks of the season is inconsistency. There were solid runs – starting tailback Tre Bryant finished with 100 yards – and there were some solid pass plays – Stanley Morgan Jr. became the first wideout in Nebraska history to have back-to-back 100-yard games to open a season – and those individual performances meant other guys were doing well around them, but Riley said the offense overall was just “way off balance.”
“To be called good, you have to be consistent,” Riley said. “That’s our whole offense right there, that’s where we have to go.”
On the other side, Riley said there’s a chance to build off of how the defense finished the game. Nebraska blanked Oregon in the second half and surrendered just 157 yards after giving up 409 in the first.
“Defensively it truly was a tale of two halves,” he said. “And it wasn’t like we just blanked them yardage-wise, but you play that game in a way that you understand a team like that, really the game is about points.”
Riley said the adjustments made at halftime by the coaching staff was little tweaks here and there that proved major in the outcome on the field. Things like positioning for corners – cutting off a post route, forcing the receiver out and then making the tackle, for instance – were stressed at the half. It’s what allowed corner Lamar Jackson to tip a pass to safety Aaron Williams for an interception late in the game.
But even though there were positives, and Riley said there were, the overall feeling from the head coach about the Huskers’ first loss is one of disgust. When asked how he would get the team ready to play for an 11 a.m. kickoff against Northern Illinois this weekend after 7 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. kicks to open the season, Riley didn’t hold back.
“We should be so hungry to practice today,” he said. “When they look at that video, they should just be sick and they should want to get out there and work to be better than that. I don’t care if we’re playing the Green Bay Packers or whatever, it should be about us knowing we can be better.”
Other notes and quotes
>> Riley offered an injury update heading into the third week of the season. Bryant is day-to-day moving forward, starting safety Joshua Kalu is doubtful, starting right tackle David Knevel is doubtful and reserve linebacker Luke Gifford is day-to-day.
>> Bryant has now been hobbled in back-to-back weeks by the same problem: old knees.
“Tre just has a knee that we need to take care of,” Riley said. “Almost since he’s arrived here, it’s just kind of who he is. It’s nothing that’s really happened. His knee is just older than his age. We have, from the beginning of camp, managed Tre in a way that we don’t overwork him.”
Riley suggested that giving Bryant 31 carries in the season-opener against Arkansas State was maybe a bit much, but he likes backs that can get into and stay in games. He said Bryant is a back that can handle that workload, they just have to manage the wear and tear throughout the week.
>> Bryant’s emergence as the Huskers’ lead back has had several other trickle-down consequences as well.
True freshman Jaylin Bradley has yet to see the field this season, but Riley said that will change this upcoming Saturday with Bradley expected to burn his redshirt.
“Jaylin Bradley will move onto special teams and play this week,” Riley said. “Jaylin Bradley will train as one of the running backs for this week.”
And if Bryant can’t go, or misses time in the game, junior Mikale Wilbon will move into his featured role, with junior Devine Ozigbo moving into the spell back role.
Ozigbo has yet to play a snap for the Huskers this season on offense after logging 412 yards last year.
“I think it’s really hard for Devine because he cares a lot,” Riley said. “Our advice to him is to continue to work. We made a decision outside of anything he can do about it.”
>> Riley thinks the offense can do a better job in pass protection situations.
“Protecting [quarterback] Tanner [Lee] is everybody’s job,” he said. “We’ve done okay, but we can be better.”
>> If you thought defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was going to walk into the Huskers’ locker room at halftime flipping chairs and yelling on Saturday, you’d be wrong. Riley said it’s been the exact opposite.
“I’ve been really impressed with our halftimes,” Riley said. “Bob is really calculated and analytical at those times, this is what has to happen, this is what we need to do.”
>> Morgan had another solid outing and Riley is really pleased with his production in the first two weeks. At times on Saturday, it looked like Lee was trying to force feed Morgan, but Riley has no problem with that.
“There are some pass patterns that start with Stanley and if he’s open, you throw him the ball,” Riley said. “Stanley plays that split end for a reason. For most of my career, that’s been the leading receiver, guys caught 90 balls playing split end.
“Play to play, game to game, you want Stanley on your side.”
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.