After a season-changing loss like the one the Huskers suffered to Northern Illinois on Saturday, Coach Mike Riley’s Monday morning press conference was never going to be about the Xs and Os. He was going to field big-picture questions about where the program was heading and what he was doing to get it there. Those questions came fast and furious once Riley took the podium.
“Everybody’s hungry to get back and that’s why we came,” Riley said. “We have all we need here to win. The resources and help provided by [Athletic Director] Shawn [Eichorst] and the administration here are awesome and we understand the expectations and we embrace that. We are here to compete and perform and recruit at the highest level and we did not perform like that on Saturday and we’ve got to get back to playing good, solid football.”
For this week, that means taking a step back and re-examining how they do things. Riley said the Huskers aren’t going to reinvent the wheel, and they’re not about to start throwing things out the window, but the coaching staff is looking at what it can do as a whole to get players better prepared to play throughout the week.
Riley said he sensed his team tighten up after two first quarter interception returns for touchdowns against the Huskies, and he felt them get down after the game.
“You wouldn’t be human if doubt didn’t creep in after something like that,” Riley said. “That’s where the adults, the coaches in the room, have to help these guys.
“The big battle, as everybody knows, is getting the mind in the right place. We have a great group of kids and they have the best of intentions. I think the most important part in the coaching right now will be really, really good teaching on ‘this is how we can get better.’”
In 2012, when Riley was at Oregon State, he took over the offensive play-calling duties for a slumping team. He said he’s thought about that, but at this time, he trusts his offensive coordinator, Danny Langsdorf, and isn’t going to be making that drastic of a change anytime soon.
“I have to balance those types of thoughts with what I need to do in all parts of the program and I will end up doing what’s best for the program,” he said. “When things aren’t looking good, it’s my responsibility to help in whatever way, step in in whatever way that I think is necessary. We have examined, as of yesterday and as late as this morning, our process of getting ready. Whatever happens, I’m responsible for it.”
They can’t start making overhauls three games into the season and they’re “not going to reinvent the wheel,” but Riley is making tweaks this week that he hopes will jumpstart improved play. He hinted at a condensed playbook on offense and said they are looking at “anybody that is competing to get in and play.” Lineup changes are likely coming, but more out of necessity by injury than anything else.
What the Huskers lack right now, Riley said, is execution.
“This will oversimplify but it’s either a combination of technique of play and assignment,” Riley said of what the issues have been. He was addressing the offensive line specifically, but that statement can ring true across the board.
“We have to run the ball better, so a real concise run plan and really good preparation for that group, we will have a chance to protect better and block better if we do all that. Our recipe has been if we run the ball effectively in games we have a great chance to win, and we don’t turn the ball over. Now, all of that fell apart in that game, that’s why we lost.”
While the players were in the locker room and Riley was addressing the loss immediately following the game Saturday, Eichorst made a surprise appearance. Riley said he hasn’t heard what was specifically said, just that he was given a blunt summary by Eichorst himself.
“He told me a little bit about how he felt about the game and I feel the same, none of us like this,” Riley said. “Whatever is said, we probably earned, by anybody. You just wear it, and know that’s the case and do better, and we can do better.”
The Huskers have five days to get things figured out before Rutgers arrives on Sep. 23 for the Big Ten conference opener.
Other news and notes
>> Once again, Riley had a lengthy list of injuries to address.
Starting linebacker Marcus Newby is dealing with a hamstring injury and Riley said he will be “out for a while.”
“I don’t know what that means exactly,” Riley said, “but he won’t play this week.”
Redshirt freshman Matt Farniok, who has started at right tackle for the injured David Knevel, suffered a broken bone in his wrist that required a pin be inserted. Riley said he “may be available for some duty” on Saturday but isn’t expected to play full time.
Riley said running back Tre Bryant and safety Joshua Kalu are still questionable after missing the Huskies game and Knevel is “a little less questionable.”
If Knevel is still unavailable and Farniok can’t play, Riley said true freshman Brenden Jaimes and Christian Gaylord will be the next men up.
>> As for lineup changes on the rest of the offensive line, one potential move would be moving starting center Cole Conrad back outside to tackle, where he played before this season, and starting sophomore Michael Decker.
As was the case when cornerback Chris Jones was lost to injury and Riley was questioned on whether Kalu would move back to corner, Riley said they don’t want to hurt themselves at multiple positions just to make a change.
“One thing you have to be careful about, guys are placed as starters for a reason and if you do that, are you weakening yourself at two spots too much?” Riley said.
>> Riley said the decision making on punt returns needs to improve. Against the Huskies, primary return man De'Mornay Pierson-El looked unsure at times fielding punts close to the Nebraska end zone. Riley said the coaches need to do a better job of "creating situations where he is more prepared."
>> Riley said he wasn’t concerned about the play call on the first interception against the Huskies.
Langsdorf called up a bubble screen from the 10-yard-line and Shawun Lurry jumped the route to take it 87 yards to the house. Riley was more concerned with the decision by Tanner Lee to throw it.
“That’s a run-pass option,” Riley said. “When that configuration looks like that, it might be best to use the run part of that option.”
>> After the loss, Riley made sure to speak with Nebraska recruits that are either considering the Huskers or have already committed.
“Frankly, guys that are committed understand our vision to where we are and where we want to go, and do they want to be a part of this as it comes back?” he said. “We kind of stay the course with that thought with those guys.”
Riley isn’t concerned about guys panicking and turning on Nebraska on the recruiting trail because he said it’s more about relationships than anything else.
“The relationship and the vision of their life at the place is the key,” he 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.