Making the transition from junior college to Power Five football is not easy under normal circumstances, and the 2020 season was anything but normal. Jordon Riley was one of the newcomers that found that out the hard way.
Riley, a North Carolina native by way of Garden City Community College, played in six games during his first season with the Huskers as the back-up nose tackle behind Damion Daniels. Daniels logged 36 snaps and made one tackle in 2020. Let’s take a closer look to see what Riley might be able to bring in year two in Lincoln.
Riley made his debut against Northwestern, logging eight snaps and recording his only tackle of the season. He also drew his only flag of the season for jumping offsides.
Riley’s first shift was encouraging as, even though he didn’t directly impact the play, he did show some ability. On his first snap, he drove back the left guard a yard or two towards where the run is going, but Ty Robinson made the tackle before Riley got involved. On the next play, he completely threw the left guard out of his way, but the left tackle stepped in to slow him down and the pocket held up long enough for the quarterback to get the pass out… only for it to ricochet off a defender’s helmet into another’s hands for an interception.
Riley’s next play was his tackle. He lined up next to Robinson again with a pair of outside linebackers flanking them at the line of scrimmage. The Wildcats sent the slot receiver across the formation on a jet motion.
At the snap, Riley engaged with the left tackle, and the left guard provided some help with a chip. Riley held his ground for the most part, only giving up a yard of ground against the double team.
The guard pushed ahead to the second level, leaving Riley alone with the tackle as the running back took the handoff and ran it right up the middle.
Riley got off the block as the back crossed the line of scrimmage and dove forward to make the tackle.
The running back fell forward for a gain of 4, but overall it was a good rep for Riley.
A few lays later, Riley fell for a hard count and jumped offsides. He took a seat after that, though he did get another series in the game.
Riley subbed back in late in the third quarter on first-and-10 from the 20 and played the nose in a traditional 3-4 look.
Northwestern ran play action while Riley attacked the center and Ben Stille looked to get past the right guard.
As the play developed, Riley dominated the center, getting his hands high on the shoulders and chest area without having them slide up into the face mask and driving him straight back a about 7 yards. Meanwhile, Stille managed to beat the guard as well, flushing quarterback Peyton Ramsey from the pocket.
However, Ramsey managed to squeeze through the small gap between Riley and Stille and neither one was able to get a hand on him. Ramsey took off running.
Robinson, who saw a double-team and pulled up instead of running headfirst into it, sprinted after the scrambling quarterback and managed to take him down. You can see the hustle from Riley to pursue the play as well.
Ramsey picked up 8 yards, so it was definitely a win for the offense. Despite Nebraska’s inability to finish it with a sack, the play did show good power from Riley and speed from Stille.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot on the positive side to take away from his next two games. On half of his 16 snaps against Penn State and Illinois, Riley got driven back, washed out of the play or cut to the ground. He did his job a few times, but didn’t make any impactful plays.
Riley only played one snap against Iowa, and his seven snaps against Purdue were fairly uneventful and non-impactful as the Boilermakers ran a lot of quick passing game.
Riley only played four snaps against Minnesota, his last appearance, and three of them were as part of Nebraska’s heavy package for short-yardage situations.
The first was a fourth-and-1 at the 26-yard line. It went poorly, but mostly because two inside linebackers both filled the same gap and left a wide open lane for the running back to shoot through on his way to the end zone. The other two were goal-line situations on back-to-back plays.
Riley lined up on the interior alongside fellow nose tackle Damion Daniels with Robinson on one side and Stille on the other.
After the snap, Daniels ran right through the line and tackled the running back. The quarterback saw him coming and kept the ball, however, and ran around the right side looking for the end zone. Meanwhile, Riley engaged with the right guard and drove him back a couple of yards.
Linebacker Nick Henrich met the quarterback before he reached the line of scrimmage and had a chance to drop him for a loss.
However, Henrich wasn’t able to make the play and the quarterback fell forward. Robinson was there to stop him from crossing the goal line, but it wasn’t by much.
The play set up a fourth-and-goal from the one-foot line, essentially, and PJ Fleck decided to go for it. Nebraska kept the same defense out there.
On third down, Riley did his job even though the play didn’t come his direction. On fourth down, it was the opposite on both counts. The left guard got the better of Riley, turning him and driving him out of his gap.
The back ran right to where Riley should have been, finding his way through the traffic to cross the goal line for six.
At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, Riley is an intimidating presence. That didn’t quite translate to consistent domination in the trenches during his first season in Lincoln, but he’s since had the opportunity to go through winter conditioning and spring ball for the first time and to reflect back his first six games against Big Ten competition.
Nebraska is hoping for a big leap from Damion Daniels. If Riley is able to take significant strides as well it should give Nebraska a fearsome duo at the nose to pair with versatile, multi-positional linemen like Robinson and Stille.